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2305, 2017

Happy 700th

It’s hard to believe, but we are turning 700! I know I don’t look a day over 30, but this is our 700th Laugh Again broadcast. According to our Home Office, here are five of your favourite one-liners from the last year:

#5: I watched a very thought-provoking TV show last night. The thought it provoked was, “What am I doing watching this show?”
#4: You know how to tell which eagle is the bald eagle? Its feathers are combed over on one side.
#3: My Dad told me, “Son, always fight fire with fire.” Perhaps that’s why he is no longer on the fire brigade.
#2: I love Thanksgiving. Relatives around the table saying, “I can’t eat another thing. I’m stuffed. Oh look, pumpkin pie.”
#1: I have a friend who likes running cross country. Here’s some advice: If you’re going to try cross country, start with a small country.

When I was a boy, I told my mother, “I want to grow up and be a comedian.” She said, “Well, you can’t do both.” She was right. I’ve never quite grown up, I suppose. To remain a child requires living life with constant wonder and a side order of surprise at an unexpected punchline or sunset or link in the chain of grace.

There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t marvel at what God is up to and how He is using the people who put together this radio ministry.

I didn’t expect the program to reach so many who don’t know about Jesus. I didn’t expect an agnostic to contact me a few years ago to say he’s listening each day. I didn’t expect the program to be heard on more than 260 stations already, thanks to visionaries and encouragers and generous givers. I didn’t expect a dear immigrant to stop me in a mall and say, “I came to Jesus through Laugh Again. I’m learning English listening to you!” (I was overjoyed, but promised to pray for her.) I didn’t expect to hear from a supporter whose friend lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. “It is your daily ministry,” she said, “that helped me through the grief and has helped me laugh again.”

I didn’t expect to hear from a guitarist who, after traveling for 30 years with top country stars, came to faith in Jesus—a few weeks before dying of cancer. For each of these things I give thanks.

Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord God! It is You who have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You.”

Thank You, Lord, for all these surprises. And thanks, my friend, for listening. And praying. We’d love to hear from you.

1905, 2017

The Day My Voice Changed

Have you had any embarrassing moments? Falling off a stage was an unforgettable experience for me. And the few hundred who watched it happen. And then there was that time on Mother’s Day. Our family had gathered in our living room after lunch to pay tribute to Mom.
I was 12. I know this because one of my brothers had just bought a 45 record. The singer was Melba Montgomery who recorded the song “No Charge” and watched it soar to number one by Mother’s Day. I stood to my feet nervously to read the song in my pre-adolescent soprano voice.

My little boy came into the kitchen this evenin,’
While I was fixin’ supper,
And he handed me a piece of paper he’d been writin’ on,
And after wipin’ my hands on my apron,
I read it—and this is what it said:
For mowin’ the yard – five dollars,
And for makin’ my own bed this week – one dollar,
And for goin’ to the store – fifty cents,
An’ playin’ with little sister, while you went to the store – twenty-five cents,
Takin’ out the trash – one dollar,
Gettin’ a good report card – five dollars,
And for rakin’ the yard – two dollars,
Total owed – fourteen dollars and seventy-five cents.

Well, I looked at him standin’ there expectantly,
And a thousand mem’ries flashed through my mind,
So I picked up the pen, turnin’ the paper over,
This is what I wrote:
For the nine months I carried you,
Growin’ inside me – NO CHARGE,
For the nights I’ve sat up with you,
Doctored you, prayed for you – NO CHARGE,
For the toys, food and clothes.
And for wiping your nose, there’s NO CHARGE,
When you add it all up.
The full cost of my love is NO CHARGE.

That’s as far as I got before my throat did funny things. My chin began to tremble. Water oozed out around my eyes. Tears spilled down my face. A blubbery sound formed deep in my throat. But by the time it came up for air my voice had changed. It had deepened. I was no longer a soprano. I was a tenor. I had become a man. And though humiliated beyond words, suddenly it didn’t matter. This was about my mama. I stepped toward her and told how that boy reads his mama’s words, gets big old tears in his eyes, looks up at her and says, “Mama, I sure do love you.” Then he takes the pen, and writes: “Paid in full.” When you add it all up, the cost of real love is no charge.”

Mom is gone now. But there’s rarely a day that goes by without me thanking God for her life. More than any other human she modeled for me the greatest love in history, with a price tag that reads, “No charge.”

905, 2017

The R Word

Our word of the day is “malapropism.” A malapropism occurs when someone uses an incorrect word in place of one that sounds similar or has a similar meaning. Like the guy who asked if he could “play Devil’s avocado for a minute.” Or the child who wrote, “A Christian should only have one wife, this is called monotony.” I think he meant monogamy.

One woman said she was going through “mental pause,” before adding that her husband had quit smoking, “cold duck.” I think that’s turkey. Or maybe her husband had a problem with smoking cold ducks. Either way, I’m glad to hear he has quit.

Here are some famous malapropisms:

  • Yogi Berra once said, “I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”
  • Baseball commentator Ralph Kiner said, “It’s Father’s Day, so to all you Fathers out there, happy birthday!”
  • The baseball player Wes Westrum said about a close ball game, “Well, that was a cliff-dweller.” He meant hanger. Cliff hanger.
  • Sports commentator Allen Weeks said, “Marie Scott has really plummeted to the top.”
  • Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House, once said, “This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.”
  • Actor Arthur Daley said, “The world is your lobster, my son.” I think it’s oyster.
  • Boxer Mike Tyson once said, “I’m fading into Bolivian.”

During an Easter Sunday school class, a teacher asked her kids, “What did Jesus do on Easter Sunday?” There was no response, so she gave her students a hint: “It starts with the letter R.” One boy blurted out, “Recycle!”

Of course, each Easter we celebrate that Jesus has risen, not recycled. But the truth is, this little guy isn’t the only one who has mixed up his R words on Easter Sunday.

Some say that Jesus was simply revived after His crucifixion. That He didn’t really die on the cross. He later woke up and walked out of the tomb. The problem is, there’s no historical account from Christians, Romans, or Jews that disputes Jesus’ death or burial.

Some say that He was removed from the tomb. That the tomb was robbed by the disciples, to make it look like He had risen. Others say the disciples rewrote the story. But history tells us that 11 of the 12 were killed for their faith. Would you die for something you knew was a lie? Count me out.

1 Corinthians 15:14 makes the bold statement: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith.” I believe the evidence is solid. God has conquered death. And each time we say, “He is Risen,” we remember that some day we will rise too. You might say it’s radically reassuring to know we’re redeemed. Let’s rejoice.

 

305, 2017

Absentee Notice

Some of my sweetest childhood memories involve standing at my bedroom window watching other children file by on their way to school, making faces at them, knowing that I would be staying home all day. Of course, you had to have a good excuse back then. You couldn’t skip school with the sniffles. Whooping cough was acceptable, pneumonia worked, a broken femur could do it.

That’s why I lived dangerously. I climbed tall trees with thin branches, I ate mud, I chewed gum I personally peeled off the sidewalk, anything to get a day away from school. If nothing worked, I could forge an absentee note. Unfortunately, my teacher caught on when I handed her a note that was signed, “Philip’s Mom.”

Another smart child tried to get out of school with this note: “There will be no school this week so Colin can stay home and play video games. From Mrs. Teague.” I don’t think it worked.

Peter forged a note from his mother to his teacher, requesting a four-day break from school. The reason given for his absence? “Peter had a heart attack.” He was 10.

Here are some hilarious absentee notes received by surprised teachers.

  • My son is under a doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.
  • Please excuse Ray Friday from school. He has very loose vowels.
  • Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.
  • Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch and when we found it Monday we thought it was Sunday.
  • Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.
  • Scott didn’t practice last night because he lost his tooth in the mouthpiece of his trumpet.
  • Please excuse my son. He will be out next week slaughtering goats for his manhood ritual. Thank you!

Each Easter we celebrate the greatest absentee notice ever delivered. The messenger was an angel, seated atop a stone that had been rolled away from Jesus’ empty tomb. “He is not here,” said the angel, “He has risen, just as He said! Come, see the place where He lay.” In that place, there was a pile of grave clothes. But no body. Jesus was alive. His absence from the tomb changed everything. May we never forget. Because of that empty tomb we have hope today. Because Jesus was absent from the tomb, someday we will be too. No absentee note needed. Let’s celebrate.

2104, 2017

The Art of the Build Up

Years ago I bought a book called The Art of the Put Down. In my defense, it was severely discounted, and being part Scottish I couldn’t bring myself to turn away such a bargain. The Art of the Put Down features an astonishing array of clever comebacks and witty one-liners, like one from comedian Will Rogers who said, “Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.” I read a few pages of the book to my parents. They laughed when I read about Winston Churchill’s ongoing exchanges with playwright George Bernard Shaw. Shaw sent Sir Winston tickets for the opening night of one of his plays and enclosed a note. It read, “Here are two tickets for the opening of my new play. Keep one for yourself and bring along a friend—if you can find one.” Churchill returned the tickets with a clever note of his own. “I’m sorry that a previous engagement precludes my attending your opening night. I shall be happy to come the second night—if there is one.”

Churchill was well known for his amusing, albeit, sharp words. He showed no restraint even for Lady Astor, the first female Member of Parliament. “I venture to say that my Right Honorable friend…knows nothing of farming,” he said. “I’ll even make a bet that she doesn’t know how many toes a pig has.” Lady Astor hit his pitch out of the park however. She replied, “Oh, yes I do. Take off your little shoesies and have a look.”

My dad found this hysterically funny, but Mom cautioned me. “If you can’t say anything nice,” she said, and I knew the rest of the sentence. “We pray you’ll use your words to build people up,” she added. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” So why don’t we put down The Art of the Put Down and pick up The Art of the Build Up.

You know, I can’t tell you who won the Major League batting championship last year. Or the Grand Prix. Or the Tour de France. But I can tell you about the time my fifth grade teacher caught me cheating on a test and said, “I forgive you.” I can tell you where I was standing when Cordell Darling said, “If you ever write a book I’ll buy a dozen.” I can tell you about the time my mom tucked me into bed and said, “I’ll miss you while you’re sleeping.” She modeled the fine art of encouragement. I have yet to meet a successful, influential person who couldn’t point to a time in their lives when simple words of encouragement changed them. So let’s make sure that our words build others up as we pass along God’s grace today.

604, 2017

Of Tigers and Storytelling

I come from a long line of storytellers. My great great-uncle on my father’s side was a horse trader and perhaps the biggest liar ever to set foot on Canadian soil. In fact, I think he claimed to have discovered Canada. He liked to tell stories of how he invented the lightbulb and the printing press and green grass. It used to be blue, he said. Like the stuff in Kentucky. I am sometimes asked if my stories are true. They are. If I embellish, I try to make it obvious. I studied to be a preacher, but discovered that when I preached half my audience slipped into a coma. So when I speak, I intersperse enough stories so they don’t realize I’m preaching.

As a kid, I sat in church, counting ceiling tiles and wads of gum beneath the pew while our preacher discussed ecclesiology and predestination. But when he began to tell a story, he had me by the ears. “There once was a small boy,” he said on a Sunday I shall never forget. “The boy had a pet tiger. He fell asleep each night with that tiger lying beside him, licking his hand. One day the boy got a cut on his finger. That night the tiger began licking that finger.” Then the preacher leaned forward. I was barely clinging to the edge of my seat. “Once the tiger got a taste of blood, he couldn’t stop himself. The boy never woke up.”

My eyes were the size of trampolines. Could you tell such a tragic story in church? “That’s just like sin,” the preacher continued. “It begins like a tiny cut on your finger. You think, it’s such a small thing. But the wages of sin is death. Before you know it, sin becomes a tiger. It devours you, fingers and all.” I determined that day never ever to sin again. Which lasted about four minutes. Stories. What I wouldn’t give to travel back in time and hear Jesus tell them. When the crowds gathered, he’d tell tales of buried treasure, runaway sheep and runaway boys. Jesus knew the power of a story. You say, “I’m not a great preacher.” That’s fine. Your story is powerful. Has God changed you? Answered a prayer? Filled you with joy? Tell about it. I assure you, your neighbour, co-worker or friend would rather see a sermon than hear one today.

Years have passed since I first heard that tiger story. And I remember lying in bed that night, eyes wide, when I felt a wet tongue on my hand. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that I had to peal myself off the ceiling. Thankfully, it was just my dog Inky.

2203, 2017

My Time Machine

When I was about 10, I learned that an object going faster than the speed of light would travel backward in time. And I thought, Maybe if I travel just a bit slower than the speed of light I can go forward in time. Or something like that. So it was that I constructed my very first time machine by removing the mud flaps from my brother’s three-speed bicycle—for aerodynamics—and pushing it to the top of the highest hill on Canada’s western prairies. I secured a small hockey helmet to my pointy head. I affixed my sister’s pink-rimmed sunglasses to my face, and pedaled like a gopher with his tail on fire. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that instead of traveling through time, I traveled about a quarter mile at 189 mph and found myself in the ditch.

I remember very little about the rest of that day, except that a blurry looking nurse asked me the “Cause of accident.” I said, “Time travel experiment,” but I think she wrote down words like, “reckless,” “irresponsible,” and “forget about his arm, let’s exam his head.” Did you ever want your own time machine? Where would you go? Would you set it for 1974, zip over to Albuquerque, get to know Billy Gates, and scoop up controlling interest in Microsoft? Would you travel back to that time in high school when your friends dared you to eat four burritos in one sitting and you said those regrettable words, “Why not?”

I asked a friend where he would go if he had a time machine. I was unprepared for his answer. He said, “I’d travel back about eight years and say sorry to my wife.” Maybe you can relate. So many of us carry regrets.In the airport the other day a flight attendant asked, “Would you like to check your baggage?” and I laughed. “Yeah, I’ve got some baggage I’d like to check.” He knew exactly what I meant.

Wouldn’t today be a good day to take those bags to the foot of a cross? Listen to the liberating words of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Were sweeter words ever spoken?

I love the old song, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.” If you’ve asked God to forgive you, He will, and you won’t get what you deserve. You’ll get grace. Simply accept that gift, and say goodbye to regret. God is the only one who can redeem our past. Let’s let Him. Who needs a time machine?

1503, 2017

Bragbook

A new study claims that excessive use of Facebook brings discouragement, even depression. Now I enjoy using Facebook to cheer people up, but experts are now calling it a “Mental health time bomb” saying it “elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.” We take our finest moments, our shiniest trophies, and post them to Bragbook. So today I thought it would be fun to introduce to you some normal, unvarnished people who admit that their lives are anything but perfect. I hope these true stories bring you a little cheer today.

A little guy had just absorbed the birds-and-the-bees explanation from his mother. He asked, “Is that how we were born?” “Yes,” she said. He thought about this, then pointed to his father and asked, “Where’d we get him?” During a noisy dinner at Pat’s parents’ home, her Dad was having trouble following conversations. He kept asking for things to be repeated. Finally Pat told him he needed to get a hearing aid. He looked at her as if she was crazy and said, “What would I do with a hand grenade?” Cindy was expecting. Her four-year-old nephew asked her, “Are you going to have a boy or girl?” “I don’t know,” she told him. He thought about this, then asked, “When will you decide?” Barbara’s granddaughter loved grandma’s puppy. “When you die,” she asked, “can I have Romeo?” “Of course,” said Barbara. Her granddaughter was a little too thrilled. “Oh, I can’t wait!” she said. Well, it’s encouraging to know that things go wrong in other families too. We’re all far from perfect.

Each morning before I fire up the phone, check Facebook, or eat breakfast, I go to a place where I meet people with the same problems I have and get ample encouragement. It’s a devotional jammed with Bible verses that never cease to be timely. This morning I was discouraged. This is what I read. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Those are God’s words to Israel and certainly to the rest of us as well. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” “Why so downcast oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 32 says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”

I hope you’re as encouraged today as I am hearing those words. In fact, I think I’ll go post them on Bragbook.

203, 2017

How Ironic

Most humour is firmly rooted in the ironic. Like when a label comes off a glue bottle, or I pass a broken-down tow truck, or see a sign that says, “Is your phone out of service? Call us for help.” Here are seven of history’s great ironies. The second man to survive a barrel ride over Niagara Falls died years later. After slipping on an orange peel. A tree was planted in 2014 to honour George Harrison, a member of the Beatles. Sadly, the tree later died from an infestation of…you guessed it, beetles.

Years ago, 80,000 government-made lapel buttons promoting toy safety had to be recalled. The reason? They were too sharp around the edges. A tragic irony took place a pool party when a man drowned. The party was held to celebrate a year with no drownings in New Orleans. The party was put on by 100 lifeguards. Barry Manilow’s 1976 hit “I Write The Songs,” was written by Bruce Johnson. No one really knows who invented the fire hydrant. Why? The building holding the patent to the fire hydrant burned down in 1836. And finally, the most shoplifted book in America is the very book that teaches us “thou shalt not steal.” It is, of course, the Bible.

The Bible itself is full or ironies. Here’s one from the book of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Just a second. Count it all joy? We rejoice when we get promoted, not fired. What could possibly inspire us to celebrate when we’re sick, or broke, or alone? Come on James. Rejoice in tough times? James goes on to explain himself. “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I don’t say this flippantly.

I say it amid uncertainty in my own life right now, and after living for years in the valley of shadows. I am slowly learning to thank God for the tough stuff. For things I wouldn’t have chosen, because they deepen me. I have come to know Christ better in dark times than I ever did when the sun shone. And though I don’t understand as much as I wish I did, I believe I will one day. After all, God delights in taking what the enemy meant for evil and turning it to good. How’s that for irony?

Speaking of irony, I saw a picture of a TV news truck that had hit a house. The slogan on the side of the truck? “Where the news hits home.”

2302, 2017

What’s your Ikigai?

There are two things that most of us want. The first is a long healthy life. That’s why we eat broccoli and diet and buy gym memberships. That’s why my wife bought me a Fitbit for Christmas. You wear it like a watch, and it tells you how far you walked today. A Fitbit buzzes you if you haven’t moved in awhile. It says things like, “You have eaten 14 Twinkies today. You have been to the fridge forty-two times. That’s 1,200 steps. At this rate you will weigh 317 pounds by April.” So don’t get one. The second thing most earthlings share in common is that we want our lives to count for something. And researchers are now discovering that living on purpose may be the key to a long and healthy life. Let me explain.

On an island in Okinawa, Japan, lives a group of people who enjoy the longest average lifespans in the world. These Okinawans live about seven years longer than the average American. What’s more, they are five times more likely to reach the age of 100 than the rest of us. What’s their secret? Well, they eat lots of veggies and stay active. They grow gardens and get lots of sunshine. They also have strong social networks. But most fascinating is the Okanawan concept of ikigai. Ask any 100-year-old what their ikigai is and they’ll tell you. Roughly translated ikigai means, “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”

For one 100-year-old man it’s catching enough fish to feed his family. For a 102-year-old lady, it’s her great great great granddaughter. When asked how she feels holding the little girl, she responds, “It’s like jumping into heaven.” No matter what their age, these people learn to live each day with purpose. Years ago I was too busy to consider what my purpose was. I was running like a gerbil on a wheel. No wonder the joy was missing. Without purpose, life is pointless. It wasn’t until a near death experience that I asked, “What’s my reason to get up in the morning?” Is it to make enough money so I can retire in comfort, move to Florida, golf, and eat breakfast at 10 AM? Or am I created for something more? Paul thought so. In Ephesians 2:10 he wrote, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ravi Zacharias once said, “When you find your definitions in God, you find the very purpose for which you were created.”

What is my ikigai? My purpose? For me, it’s loving God and loving people. Investing in that which lasts brings satisfaction and joy because we were made for this. And now my Fitbit is buzzing again. It’s says I have to go 3,000 steps to meet today’s goal. I think I’ll see if my wife would like to walk with me. To the donut shop.

1302, 2017

Love and Marriage

Each February, retailers rush to cash in on the Valentine’s craze. I don’t mind. I love any opportunity to celebrate love and marriage. The American poet Ogden Nash said, “Marriage is the bond between a person who never remembers anniversaries and another who never forgets them.” I read that to my wife on our anniversary last, um, when was that? Oh, August.

Actress Lana Turner said,“A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.” My wife found that man. But decided to marry me instead. I love this from Mignon McLaughlin: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person.” Not long ago, my nephew Michael tied the knot. During the bachelor party, my son Steve and other friends took Mike to Walmart, bought him a giant onesie and a Sharpie, then marched him around the store asking shoppers to write marriage advice on his outfit. Before long, the onesie was covered with slogans like, “Happy wife, happy life.” “The wife is always right.” “Listen to your wife.” “Just say ‘yes dear.’” You know. The standard stuff. One lady wrote the words, “Don’t do it,” across the front in large letters. I’m thankful Mike didn’t take her advice. It’s become the mantra of for too many. “Don’t commit.” “Marriage is outdated.” “It’s an antique.” “Just live together.” “Why do you need a contract?”

Studies are showing that commitment is vastly underrated. One from the US Department of Health and Human Services states that getting married and staying married reduces depression in both men and women. Another study found that married men live an average of seven years longer than unmarried men. That’s equal to the benefits of giving up smoking. One cranky guy said, “It just seems longer.” He was wrong. It makes perfect sense. If my wife passed away I would die of my own cooking.

On average, married people are more likely to survive a heart attack. They have fewer colds. And flus. And trips to the doctor. By far—surprise, surprise—they have the most satisfying sex lives. Studies show it and Sripture teaches it. Marriage was God’s idea. And it is very good. I highly recommend it. After all, I have been such a blessing to my wife. We read in Hebrews 13:4 that “Marriage should be honoured by all.” Whether or not you plan on tying the knot, let’s honour marriage.

And ladies, remember this advice from Phyllis Diller: “Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age–as your beauty fades, so will his eyesight.”

1002, 2017

God is Loser Friendly

I love to win. Always have. I imagine you do too. I don’t meet many people who say, “Some of my fondest memories involve being clobbered in checkers and belted at backgammon.” No. You don’t hear sports fans chanting, “We’re number two. We’re number two.” It’s easier to brag when you win. Baseball great Ted Williams said, “I can’t stand it, I’m so good.” Hall of Fame Pitcher Bo Belinski said, “My only regret is that I can’t sit in the stands and watch myself pitch.” Winning is nice, but colossal losses in the sports world make for great stories.

The most astounding defeat on record in football is Cumberland’s loss to Georgia Tech back in 1916. The final score? 222-0.
In 1944, “Tubby” McAuley allowed 15 goals as the New York Rangers lost to the Detroit Red Wings 15-0. It was the most lop-sided shutout in NHL history. Interestingly, McAuley never beefed about the loss. It was World War II and he’d been called in to replace the Rangers’ goalie who was serving overseas. Tubby was just thrilled to be in the big leagues. The worst loss in baseball goes to Baltimore’s Orioles back in 2007 when the Texas Rangers thumped them 30-3. The game was close. Until that opening pitch.

I understand losing a little bit. As a teenager, I scored a championship goal—into my own net. Trust me, there was nothing about this that I want to repeat. I felt like a loser for weeks. The Bible is filled with stories of “losers.” People I wouldn’t pick for my team. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible never hides the faults of its heroes. I find such hope in that. Because these are the people God loves. People who have failed miserably and sometimes publicly.

It’s almost as if God prefers losers. Why? Well, let’s be honest, He doesn’t have much else to work with. The perfect people gene pool is a little shallow. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But the good news is this: God is loser friendly. Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. I’m so glad. God’s grace is amazing. During a Monday night football game, Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears’ famous running back, surpassed nine miles in rushing yards during his career. His average run was 4.6 yards. That means he was knocked down almost 3,500 times. His success came from getting back up each time and running again.

May God give each of us the strength to do that today.

3101, 2017

No Worries

There are some golden humor quotes in movies. In Finding Nemo, Dory the fish says, “I suffer from short term memory loss. It runs in my family… At least I think it does.” Or, “If I’m not back in five minutes…wait longer.” Robert Hays says, “Surely you can’t be serious.” Leslie Nielson replies, “I am serious…anddon’t call me Shirley.” And my favourite of all time: Inspector Clousseau pulls his hand back from a snarly little dog and says, “I thought you said your dog did not bite.” The Innkeeper replies: “That’s not my dog.”

My wife and I recently watched Bridge of Spies, the true story of a lawyer who was brokering hostage deals with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1950s. Tom Hanks is James Donovan, who faces the impossible task of defending Russian spy Rudolf Abel caught on U.S. soil and hated by Russians and Americans alike. As things look increasingly bleak, Donovan asks him, “Aren’t you worried?” Abel offers a deadpan response, “Would it help?” We laughed,then pushed pause and began to talk. We were going through some tough things ourselves, and Abel’s answer was so appropriate.

Our nephew was facing cancer treatments. Aren’t you worried? My son-in- law was looking for work. Aren’t you worried? The economy was in the tank. What about my health, my investments, my children, my grandchildren? Aren’t you worried? Well, would it help? A pastor was on a long flight when the plane hit major turbulence. Cracks of thunder could be heard above the roar of the engines. The plane was soon tossed like a cork in the ocean. Nearly all the passengers were upset and alarmed.

The pastor later admitted that he was making a few things right with God. But a few seats away a little girl sat calmly, enjoying a book. With the adults scared half to death, everything within her world seemed peaceful and orderly. The plane landed safely. The passengers hurried to disembark. And the pastor spoke to the little girl. “The storm was horrible,” he said. She agreed. “But you didn’t seem to be afraid. Why?” The little girl laughed. “Cause my Daddy’s the pilot,” she said. “He’s taking me home.”

Storms enter all our lives. During the turbulence, we do well to remember that our Father is the pilot. He has yet to miss a runway. And He’s taking us home. Philippians 4 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

To worry is like pouring sand in your car engine. Faith is the oil. Let’s give our cares over to God and drift off to sleep tonight. Our Father is awake.

2601, 2017

Forbidden Smile

When our granddaughter Claira was eight months old, my son Jeff and his wife Raelyn plunked her on a chair for her passport photo. When I was a kid, you didn’t need such a thing. We barely had birth certificates. Sometimes I wonder if my siblings are even my siblings at all. But if a baby is to travel these days, she needs a passport. The photographer realized immediately that this girl would be a problem. She wouldn’t stop smiling. Now the thing about passport photos is that you are forbidden to smile. You can’t show your arms either and Claira was constantly moving her arms, throwing them in the air. So my son held the little girl’s arms as the photographer snapped pictures. Still she would not stop smiling.

She smiled at the photographer. At her parents. At a lampshade. The photos kept coming out far too nicely. It was a nightmare. The photographer tried everything to get her to stop smiling. Finally he picked the least smiley photo and, wonder of wonders, the passport office accepted it. Sometimes it takes a little kid to remind us to go ahead and smile. The world tends to steal those smiles. To bombard us with bad news. To load us with stress. With aches and pains. Relational stuff. One look at Claira and I ask myself, “Why so serious?” Claira agrees with Phyllis Diller: “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”I’m sure there are a dozen reasons to cry today; but there are even more reasons to rejoice, to laugh, to let go with a contagious grin.

Here are a few:

You’re a child of God.
You’ve been forgiven.
God loves you.
He will never leave you.
Ephesians 2 says, “God who is rich in mercy, gave us life when We raised Jesus from the dead.” We are physically alive, but better yet, eternally alive through Christ who loves us.

Claira doesn’t talk yet, but she says a lot. One smile from her and it’s like she’s talking straight from Numbers 6: “Hey Grampa! ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.’” So go ahead, little girl. Throw your hands up and smile. That smile reminds me that I have grandkids now. The years fly by. I’m sleeping with a grandma now! That smile reminds me that life is short, so I need to be a fast forgiver. A faithful lover. A slow kisser. And a big smiler.

If you’re all grown up like me, and you’ve forgotten where your smile is, don’t worry. It’s right there. It’s right underneath your nose.

1701, 2017

Falling Onstage

Nothing endears you to an audience quite like that moment when things go horribly wrong. When a microphone quits. A cell phone rings. A podium collapses, or you have a wardrobe malfunction. Each of these things has happened to me. To make matters worse, when you stand before audiences, your forgetter can go into hyperdrive. I once said, “There’s a sign on an Alaska highway that says…” and my mind went blank. My brain was a giant piece of fuzz, fluffy white clouds floating around in there. So I grinned and said, “The sign says…something you would have really laughed about if I could just remember.” The audience was so encouraged by my forgetfulness. They laughed harder than they would have had I remembered the rest of that sign.

Several times I’ve been asked, “What was the worst speaking experience of your life?” I think of the time I was asked by a corporation to entertain their employees, but missed the fact that few of them spoke English. As I started to speak, chairs began to move. An audience of 500 turned their backs on me and visited among themselves. What would you do? I addressed the ones who brought me there for about 15 minutes, then sat down. As a boy, I heard speakers ask mothers to remove crying babies from the building. “This is not the ball room,” one yelled. I heard speakers who made their spouse look silly or an audience member look like a fool. I remember the hollow feeling of doing that when I first started in comedy. Then I encountered Bible verses about our speech. It should always be seasoned with grace. It should minister grace to those who hear. Even when the unexpected jumps out from nowhere.

Not long ago I was privileged to address a crowd representing 72 nations. Suddenly a small child wriggled from the grip of his parents and dashed onto the stage, stealing the show. I thought, It’s okay. Don’t panic. And when that boy wrapped his tiny arms around my leg and wouldn’t let go, I said, “Thank you. I’ve had fruit thrown at me while I’m on stage, but never this.” I discovered later that this boy is a Syrian refugee, that his parents don’t speak much English, still somehow I made them laugh. I tried not to tear up. “God bless this precious little boy,” I prayed.

Sometimes even I get things right, and when I do, I’m astounded and grateful. Sometimes I even remember punchlines. Remember that sign on the Alaska highway? I do now. It says, “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.”

2112, 2016

Love According to Kids

Could you use a few good snickers? Not Snickers bars, but a few laughs? Kids were asked, “Why does love happen between two particular people?” Mae, age 9, said, “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.” That reminds me of what I’ve often said, “Love is like deodorant. Put it on every day or life will stink.” “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something,” said Manuel, age 8. “But the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” How do people in love typically behave? “Mooshy. Like puppy dogs,” said Arnold, age 10. “Except puppy dogs don’t wag their tails nearly as much.” Do beauty and handsomeness play a role in love? “Beauty is skin deep,” answered Christine, age 9. “But how rich you are can last a long time.”

Kids were asked for some surefire ways to make a person fall in love with you. Del, age 6, said, “Tell them that you own a whole bunch of candy stores.” Floyd, age 9, said, “Love is foolish … but I still might try it sometime.” Regina, age 10, said, “I’m not rushing into love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.” “Love will find you,” said Dave, age 8, “even if you are trying to hide from it. I been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” That reminds me of when our daughter Rachael was 16 and put a Bible verse on her bedroom door: “Have mercy on me O God, for men hotly pursue me” (Psalm 56:1). I think it was slightly out of context, but I took a picture of it that I have to this day.

Most Wednesday nights, my wife and I attend a Bible study. Last week, we looked at what Jesus talked about the most during his final days on earth. What do you think it was? You’re right. Love. The apostle John records Jesus using the word just six times in his first twelve chapters, but 31 times in the last five. You know, if I was hoping to start a “religious” movement that would change the world, I would spend my last days planning innovative strategies, designing thick manuals, and creating well-moneyed foundations. Not Jesus. What he wanted was a few men and women who would love one another with His love, a radical love that loves even our enemies. This love is how people will know that we are His disciples. It is truly the greatest thing the world has ever known.

Greg, aged 8, agrees. “Love,” he said, “is the most important thing in the world. But baseball is pretty good too.”

1712, 2016

Run Devin Run

I’m not much of a runner. But friends of mine religiously strap on their running shoes and jog across the tundra. One was trying to explain to me something he called the “runner’s high.” I’ve found I can get that same sensation just getting up off the couch.
But if you’re about to start pounding the pavement with your sneakers, here’s a little advice.

• Start early in the morning before your brain figures out what you’re up to.
• Never run in front of a car. You might get, well, tired.
• Stretch. First take your left ankle and throw it over your right shoulder. If you feel discomfort, get back on the sofa.
• Don’t worry if you see a dog. But be very worried if the dog sees you.
• Set your own pace. But remember, if a workman from the city comes by and paints you yellow, you are running too slowly.

Devin Woodland loves to run. He’s a cross country champ who grew up in our little town, and now lives in the city of Red Deer, Alberta, with his wife Anna. Devin was out for a run this past September when he spotted something. He was sure it was his wife’s blue bike that had been stolen two days before. When he confronted the thief, the guy hopped on the bike and took off, not knowing that he was trying to outrace a guy who had just won his first triathlon.

As he ran, Devin dialed the police from his phone. They didn’t believe him at first, but soon joined in the chase. For nearly an hour, the race wound its way through the downtown. Finally, Devin and an officer cornered the thief who tossed the bike aside and dove into a bush. One newspaper dubbed the ending anti-climactic. Woodland saw how miserable the thief was, so he just forgave the guy. “I wasn’t sure what good pressing charges would do,” Devin explains. “Besides, I’m a Christian. God forgave me, I can forgive others.” I don’t find that anti-climactic at all. You see, Devin understands the concept of grace, getting what I don’t deserve, what I can never earn or pay for.

I hope your day doesn’t include chasing someone around for an hour, but it may include the opportunity to show God’s grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Go ahead. Make their day. As for Devin, he was happy to have his wife’s bike back. He thanked the officer, hopped aboard that bike and rode home in search of breakfast.

912, 2016

Three Word Smiles

Is it possible to make someone smile with three words? I think so. How about “Hot apple pie”? “Come for supper”? “Let’s go eat”? It sounds like I have a bit of a thing for food. Is it possible to tell a three-word joke? Let me try. Bakers knead dough. Get it? Gloves are handy. Twins are wombmates. Trees branch out. Teachers have class. Tailors suit me. Okay, I guess the only thing tougher to find than a three-word joke is a three-word joke that’s funny.

Some three-word combinations are lethal: “Told you so.” I’m glad my wife hasn’t said this since about 1984. But she has said, “You are wrong.” She was right. She’s also said, “You are cheap.” Here’s a horrible three-word phrase: “You are fired.” I much prefer hearing, “You are hired,” or “The weekend’s here.” “I brought sandwiches.” There’s that food thing again. How about, “Class is canceled.” I like that. A friend told me, “Crashed your car!” Then he said those beautiful words, “I’m just kidding.” Let me tell you about three words that changed my life. When I started writing, public speaking and flying were my top fears.

One memorable day on an American Airlines flight I pulled out a card I’d stuffed in my briefcase the night before. My mother had given it to me. I knew it contained no money, she didn’t have much of the stuff. But its contents were priceless. This is what she wrote: “Praying for you. God has allowed you to be such a blessing. I’m so thankful you get to do this, Son.” Three words popped out at me: “You get to.” I honestly don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today were it not for those three words. God has allowed me to do this. Thousands would love to. I don’t have to. I get to.

I wonder what our days would look like if we woke up each morning and said, “Thank you God. I don’t have to go work, I get to.” “I don’t have to parent these crazy toddlers or change this ripe diaper or make this three-course meal. I get to.” Recently I found myself saying, “I have to take out the garbage.” And I thought of a dear friend in a wheelchair who would love to take out the garbage tonight. I get to.

The central message of the Bible can be summed up in three words: God so loved. “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16, “that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God so loved. You are loved. All is well. Why so serious? God is bigger. Love conquers all. Thank you God.

2911, 2016

10,000 Hours

Today we present my three-step guarantee on how to make money from Facebook.

Step 1: Open Facebook, go to “Account settings.”
Step 2: Press the button that says, “Deactivate your account.”
Step 3: Now, get back to work.

We live in a world that’s ripe with get-rich-quick schemes. I hate to break it to you, but you know that Nigerian prince who wants your banking info so he can deposit $4 million in your bank account? His name is Bert. He lives in Ohio. And he’s a pathological liar. Unless you end up unearthing the world’s largest diamond in your driveway, your chances of getting rich overnight are about as good as my chances of waking up tomorrow morning with a full head of hair. The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to take the stairs one step at a time.

Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours. The neurologist Daniel Levitin says, “In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals…no one has yet found a case in which true world class expertise was accomplished in less time.” As a teenager he developed an obsession with programming. A local college gave him access to a computer where he practiced for hours every day. By the time Bill Gates founded Microsoft, how many hours of programming do you think he’d put in? You’re right. About 10,000.

There’s no substitute for practice. The best husband practices loving his wife every day. The best father puts down the remote and picks up his kids. I couldn’t pick my kids up today without suffering a hernia, but my grandchildren are just the right size. In Philippians 4:9, the Apostle Paul writes, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Those of us who want to grow in our knowledge and love of God must make and take the time. Time to invest. Time to practice.

I easily find time for hobbies and football. But I have yet to regret making time to pick up my Bible and read it. Or getting on my knees talking and listening to God. Thanking Him. Asking for help. I’ve found that He’s more than happy to give it. Speaking of help, a commercial online wants to help me out. I can make $200 an hour just by stuffing envelopes. All I have to do is send in my Visa card number. I think the guy behind it is Bert from Ohio.

2211, 2016

Get Back Up

Years ago there was a famous football coach who hired an assistant coach named Mike. Now Mike was going to help make the team great. One of the most important things he would do was recruit new players. One day the head coach sat down with Mike. “Now listen here, Mike,” he said. “When you recruit, there’s a kind of player that gets knocked down and stays down.” And Mike said, “Oh, Coach, we don’t want that kind of player, do we?” “No sir,” said Coach, “we don’t want that kind of player. But, Mike, there’s another kind of player. You knock him down, he gets back up, you knock him down again, and he stays down.” Mike said, “We don’t want that kind of player, do we coach?” Coach said, “No sir, we don’t want that guy. But, Mike, there is another kind of player. When you knock him down, he gets back up. You knock him down, he gets back up. You knock him down, he gets back up again. And no matter how many times you knock him down, he gets back up.” And Mike said, “Coach, that’s the guy we want, right?” And Coach said, “No, we don’t want him either. We want you to go find the guy that’s knocking everybody down!”

Well, if you’ve lived very long at all, you’ve been knocked down. You’ve been flattened and crushed and discouraged. You’ve said, “I can’t go any lower. I’ve hit rock bottom. I feel like those snails must have felt trying to get on the ark.” In such times it’s helpful to think of others who got back up. One wanna-be actor took his first screen test. And the testing director of MGM wrote in a memo, “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” You know him as Fred Astaire. One salesman took his recipe to 1,000 potential buyers before getting a single nibble. You know him as Colonel Sanders. His recipe was “finger lickin’good.” Fred and the Colonel knew that triumph is just “umph” added to “try.”

Perseverance and consistency are vital to our spiritual lives. When Jesus told the parable of the seeds, he ended it this way: “And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.” Promise me you won’t stop praying, serving, giving, and loving. Faithfully do the job God has called you to today, whatever it may be. I think we should be like a postage stamp. Let’s stick to something, until it gets there.

1711, 2016

The Apology

Few things give me more pleasure than reading apologies from newspapers. Like these: “Due to a typing error, Saturday’s story on local artist Jon Henninger mistakenly reported that his bandmate is on drugs. It should have read that he was on drums.” “Apology: I originally wrote, ‘Woodrow Wilson’s wife grazed sheep on the front lawn of the White House.’ We inadvertently left out a word so that it read ‘Woodrow Wilson’s wife grazed on the front lawn of the White House.’” Well, we’ve all regretted some errors we’ve made, haven’t we? And sometimes we’ve tried to fix them without success.

The following ad appeared in a newspaper on a Monday. “For sale: R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Phone 948-0707 after 7 P.M. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him cheap.” On Tuesday the following apology was printed. “Notice: We regret having erred in R. D. Jones’ ad yesterday. It should have read, ‘One sewing machine for sale cheap. Phone 948-0707 and ask for Mrs. Kelly, who lives with him after 7 P.M.’” Another clarification appeared in Wednesday’s newspaper: “Notice: R. D. Jones has informed us that he has received several annoying phone calls because of the error we made in the classified ad yesterday. The ad stands correct as follows: ‘For sale–R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone 948-0707 after 7 P.M. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who loves with him.’” The final ad ran Thursday. “Notice: I, R. D. Jones, have no sewing machine for sale. I intentionally broke it. Don’t call 948-0707 as I have had the phone disconnected. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Kelly. Until yesterday she was my housekeeper, but she has now quit.”

Apologies. Some of us aren’t so good at it. I’ve said often that my marriage is a miracle marriage and it’s true. My apologies were the absolute worst. I once said, “If it makes you feel better, I’ll pretend you’re right.” Here are words I have learned to say and to mean them: “I am sorry for saying what I said. I was absolutely wrong. I want to do whatever I can to avoid doing this again. Will you please forgive me?” At the heart of every single one of our apologies should be the realization that we have been forgiven so much. By others. By God who promises that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Time for one more newspaper apology. And it’s genuine. “Readers may have noticed that the Valley News misspelled its own name on the front page yesterday. Let us say for the record, ‘We sure feel silly.’” That’s not a bad place to start.

811, 2016

Small Towns, Big Laughs

I’ve spent much of my life in a small town. “How small?” you ask. About 50,000 if you include ants, but the humans number 3,000 and change. Are you from a small town? You might be from a small if you couldn’t buy cigarettes because the store clerks all knew your age. You might be from a small town if running from the cops meant hiding in a corn field. You might be from a small town if you thought it was normal to have an old man drive a riding lawnmower around town, or if a night on the town took about four minutes.

Few things are more exhilarating than a small-town newspaper’s “Police Beat” section. Here are a few samples. I’m not making these up. “Thursday at 3:20 PM a resident who needed help opening a jar called police for assistance. The police opened the jar.” “1:03 PM, a sick raccoon was reported in the 600 block of Pleasant Avenue. The raccoon appeared to be healthy. No action was taken.” “Friday night, police received a report of suspicious behaviour on Marshall Street. Turned out to be four males with flashlights comparing facial hair.” “October 29: Pumpkin taken from Mountview Drive property and returned carved.”

Wherever we live, there are opportunities to carve other people’s pumpkins, to practice kindness, to be in community. One day our doorbell rang and a five- or six-year-old kid was standing there. He lifted his finger to show me that it was bleeding. “Ow,” he said. I washed the tiny cut, put a Band-Aid on it, and waved goodbye. “What’s your name?” I asked. But he was gone. I have no idea who he was.

As the sun set one night, a friend from church came over in a panic. His very young daughter was missing. The last thing she had said to him was, “I’m gonna run away.” I called three friends who called three friends and within 20 minutes half the town was scouring the streets with flashlights, searching the darkness. Those who couldn’t search prayed. We found her, hiding beneath the long branches of a pine tree. And I thought to myself, I almost missed this little miracle because I am a busy guy who considered not answering the doorbell and filling my time with less important things.

One small town newspaper had a “Deaths” section. But no died that week, so they just put “Deaths are coming.” They were right. “Teach us how short our lives are,” wrote the Psalmist, “so that we may be wise.” Wherever we are, let’s make time to reach out. When we bring joy to others, we bring it to ourselves as well. It won’t make headlines, but then again, you never know.

1910, 2016

Side Effects

I was watching a football game when a drug commercial flashed across the screen. Most of the ad was spent listing the side effects. I heard the first part: “May cause
drowsiness, dizziness, amnesia and bankruptcy.” But it all went too fast. For all I know it may have gone something like this: “Side effects may include nausea,
dizziness, itchy earlobes, sleeplessness, and gout. You may also experience illusions of invincibility, swelling of the ego, memory loss, and also memory loss.
Do not consume alcohol while taking this pill. Or vegetables. Or anything yellow. Under no circumstances eat yak. If fungus starts to grow in your bellybutton, call
the Guinness Book of World Records. If you begin spontaneously speaking Mandarin, hire an interpreter. Do not attempt to operate an electronic egg beater while on this pill. If you have visions of elephants in tiaras doing the cha-cha, sit back and enjoy the show.”

I’m sure you’ve seen those commercials too. Maybe you’ve picked up a box of pills and laughed as you’ve read warning label. Here’s one that made me laugh: “If you cannot read warning labels, do not use this product.” I wonder what would happen if some of us wore warning labels. Would they say, “Grouchy. Irritable. Hypocritical. Judgmental. Avoid this guy like the plague.”? A few times on airplanes I’ve asked seat mates, “What comes to mind when you think of Christians?” I’m sad to report that I rarely hear the word gracious. How is it possible that we Christians could make the Good News look so bad? Shouldn’t “cranky Christian” be an oxymoron on the level of jumbo shrimp and Microsoft works?

Following Jesus should have very powerful side effects, don’t you think? What if our warning labels looked more like this: “Caution: this believer may
forgive when it seems impossible, love when it seems unreasonable, and over-tip in restaurants. She may exhibit qualities like kindness, goodness, and patience. She may know more about selflessness than how to take selfies. He will help the poor, treat others as he’d like to be treated, and turn the cheek you already smacked so you can have a go at the other one. After all, he’s a follower of Jesus.” I’d love to see more of those side effects in my own life. If you would too, here’s a prescription I’m told should help. Start each day with an attitude of thanksgiving. Chase it down with a solid dose of truth from the Bible. Top it off by fixing your eyes on Jesus and go looking for needs you can meet.

You just may find that those old warning labels will fall off like Post-It Notes. Speaking of labels, I saw this sign, “Warning: Touching wires causes
instant death. $200 fine.” I think I’d go with the fine.

1110, 2016

Grouse For Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Day. It’s that time when we crowd around full tables with empty stomachs, eat our weight in turkey, then try to stand up. At some point someone may crack a turkey joke. “How many cooks does it take to stuff a turkey? Just one. The trick is squeezing him in there.” Everyone will clutch their stomachs and groan.

One Thanksgiving, the clerk at a supermarket was unusually cheerful. A customer asked her, “Why so happy today?” “Well,” she replied, “the hardest part of this job is picking up these turkeys and watermelons. I just thank God that Thanksgiving doesn’t come in July.” Every cloud has a silver lining if you look at it through the right lens. Of course, some are skilled at finding the negative in everything. Two friends met for coffee one day. One looked gloomy. “What’s wrong?” the first friend asked. “Well, three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me four thousand dollars,” replied the second friend. “Wow! That’s great!” “Two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me forty thousand dollars.”
“Woah. You have been blessed beyond—” “You don’t understand!” his sad friend interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. She left me four hundred thousand dollars.” Now the man’s friend was really confused. “Then, why do you look like gloomy?” “Because this week, I got nothing!”

I think we are all guilty of overlooking abundant blessings every day. I sure am. I overlook the fact that I woke up in a bed this morning. Millions didn’t. I had lunch today with a buddy. Tonight my wife and I are going to make waffles. What more could I ask for?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” I’m forgiven. Adopted as God’s child. Filled with his Spirit. I’m promised eternity with Jesus because of what he has done for me. I am been blessed beyond reason. And yet, a few days ago, my day was ruined. My wife and I were far from home and I found a nail in my tire. I griped. I groused. Just ask my wife. I heard her mutter something, and I knew what it was. She said, “First world problems.” I didn’t appreciate that at all. But she was right. Millions have no car. I do. It has a jack in the back. And one of those flimsy little tires that will get me to a service station. In the midst of the everyday, I’m slowly learning that the size of my smile depends less on my circumstances, and more on what I choose to focus on.

So today, as Thanksgiving nears, I shall at least start by giving thanks that I am not a turkey.

310, 2016

Butterball Hotline

I wouldn’t stay employed long if I were one of the operators on the Butterball Turkey hotline. If you haven’t heard of it, this is an actual call-in service for people who need advice when preparing their turkeys for that all important Thanksgiving Day feast. Here are some actual questions that have been asked, followed by answers I might give during my last day on the job.

Caller: “My turkey is all sudsy in the oven. I washed it with soap. What should I do?”
Me: “Ha ha ha ha!!!!”
Caller: “The turkey in my freezer is 30 years old. Is it safe to eat?”
Phil: “A turkey is much like gourmet cheese. The older the better. I have a turkey in my freezer passed down to me from my grandfather. I haven’t decided whether to cook it, or leave it for my grandchildren. One day, they might eat it and say to one another, “Mmm. The 1900s. That was a good century.”
Caller: “Can I cook the turkey on the engine block of my semi while I’m driving?”
Phil: “Not a bad idea. But remember the faster you drive, the faster the turkey cooks. If you cruise at 100 km an hour, it will be done in 4 hours. At 110, the bird should be ready in 3 hours. My recommendation though is that you move the turkey forward three feet. That way you can cook it on the grill.”
Caller: “My Chihuahua climbed inside my turkey. How do I get him out?”
Phil: “Ha ha ha!!!! Preferably head first. And very carefully. Have you tried a vacuum cleaner?”
Well, I wouldn’t take my advice on anything to do with cooking turkeys. That would be like calling a plumber when you have a toothache. There’s nothing as valuable as an expert’s opinion. So ask an expert.

A man spent a lifetime looking for answers to life’s truly big questions in all the wrong places. He said, “I finally realized I had no purpose, no hope. That’s when I asked God, ‘If You’re real, show me.’ Less than 24 hours later, my phone rang. The caller ID said, ‘Real Life.’ It was a pastor. He had the wrong number. I asked him the most important question I’ve ever asked: ‘Tell me about Real Life.’ He did. He led me to Jesus.” Isn’t it amazing the lengths God goes to find His lost kids? If you need answers today, open God’s book and read it. Pray that He will show Himself to you in its pages. The most important answers are closer than you think.

And if you’re looking for help with a turkey, call the Butterball Hotline. One disappointed woman asked why her turkey had no breast meat. Turned out it was lying on the table upside down.

2309, 2016

TV or not TV

One September when our children were small, we unplugged our TV. One day our five-year-old daughter came home from a friend’s house. “What did you do?” I asked. “Watched movies,” she replied. “What kind of movies?” “James Bond movies.” The girl was four. We carved a new rule in stone that day: no movies until you phone home. Then I went over to visit her friend’s dad and wrapped his minivan in toilet paper. Not really, but I felt like it.

A few days later, I sat down with my boys to watch a harmless football game. For the 350th time, one of them had hidden the remote control in the VCR. Before I could locate it, an ad for the latest horror movie had robbed them of three night’s sleep. I stood to my feet, pushed the power button and calmly proclaimed: “Let’s blow up the television.” The boys were pretty excited. After all, they weren’t used to this kind of violence off the set. But when I confessed that I didn’t have any dynamite and was merely going to unplug the stupid thing, they weren’t so sure.“I can’t live without it,” said Jeffrey, who was four.“I’ll just die,” said Stephen, clutching his chest and slumping to the carpet like he was in an opera. “Tell you what,” I said, thinking quickly, “I’ll double your allowance if we can go without TV or videos for two weeks. Then we’ll have a big party in two weeks.” Rachael came into the room, clutching the dog tightly. “I don’t think I’ll make it,” she said.

Two weeks later we pulled pizza from the oven and celebrated 14 days without TV. During those two weeks, we saw some changes in the kids. And some changes in me. I missed the sports, but not watching TV freed up time for better things. Like wrestling with the kids, reading good books together and loving my wife. I found time to meditate on verses like, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right…it won’t get high ratings on primetime television.” (That’s Phil’s revised version). I even had time to put a short Bible verse on top of my television: “I will walk in my house with a blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing (Psalm 101:3).” Strangely, I’m more convinced than ever that we can do this without unplugging Netflix or the TV. We can walk before God with a blameless heart by careful attention to daily discernment.

By modeling for our kids the behaviour we want them to embrace. That night we ate pizza and watched an old movie. The remote control was missing, but that was fine. The next morning we found it in the fridge.

1609, 2016

3 Lies I Believed About God

I believed some crazy things as a child. I believed my mom when she said, “Keep crossing your eyes and they’ll stay that way.” I believed my sister when she said, “You swallow watermelon seeds, you’ll grow watermelons out your ears.” I believed my brother when he said snakes would slither up the pipes. Believed him so much I kept a close eye on the drain whenever I took a shower. I believed my teacher lived at school and my grandpa lived at the airport. I believed dogs were male and cats were female. And when a friend told me that thunder was God moving His furniture, I believed him entirely.
Even as an adult, I believed some wild things about God. Here are three myths I believed.

God wants me miserable

I grew up around religious people who sang, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” Then they chanted, “Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart.” It was buried so deeply they couldn’t find it. I thought that if I took this Christian thing seriously, I would end up just as grumpy as they were. I thought God would make me marry a weepy girl with horned rimmed glasses and he would send us to Borneo where cannibals would notice how skinny I was and fatten me up then finish me off. It took years to discover that God didn’t want me miserable. Quite the opposite! He is not the enemy of our joy; He’s the fulfillment of it.

God is watching us from a distance

It makes a nice Bette Midler tune, but God isn’t a distant figure on a throne way up there. “Where can I flee from Your presence?” King David asks. “If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.” Every other religion tells us how to find God. Christianity tells us that God came to find us.

The Bible is a rulebook

Yes, it contains rules. But they are for our joy, not our misery. The Bible is about relationship. It’s about Jesus and His great love for us. It’s the story of how God gets His kids back. As you read it, pray that you’ll encounter Jesus. God loves to answer that prayer.

The theologian A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So ask yourself two questions: 1) What lies have I believed about God? And 2) What does the Bible show me about Him? Then go looking. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself believing all sorts of crazy things. Like the man who said, “When I was little I believed God was an artist named Howard.” That’s why he prayed: “Our Father, who does art in heaven, Howard be Thy name.”

909, 2016

Remember What’s-His-Name?

I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time my granddaughter Eowyn called me Bumpa. Then I discovered that she calls everything Bumpa. She calls a tomato Bumpa. She calls a block of cheese Bumpa. A friend’s grandchild calls him Grandma, and sometimes Grumpy, so I figure I don’t have it so bad.

My mother once told me that she started thinking of my name months before I was born. She wrote it on a slip of paper, tried it out on friends, whispered it to me when I was in the womb. She rocked me and sang songs to me with my name in them. When I was older she even had “Philip” embroidered on a towel for a birthday present.

That’s why it’s amazing to think that half the time when I was growing up she had no idea who I was. She called me by my siblings’ names: Dan, Dave, Tim, Ruth, and sometimes Inky, which was our snarly little Terrier’s name. I’m sure some kids are traumatized by this. I thought it was more fun than a herd of hamsters. Of course I went through a bit of an identity crisis there for a while when she called me Get-In-Here-You-Know-Who-You-Are.

My wife sometimes calls our children by her siblings’ names: Janice, Dennis, LaVerne, Caroline, Miriam, Cynthia. They got used to it in time. “I’m Rachael,” said my daughter once. “Say it with me, Mom. Rachael.” “What did I call you?” asked my wife. “You called me Rex. That was your dog when you were little.” “I always liked Rex,” said Ramona. “He was a good dog.”

I’m comforted to know that there is one who never forgets our names. Listen to these promises from the Bible. In Exodus 33, God says to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.” I like that. In Isaiah 43, the Lord reminds the people of Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.” In Isaiah 49, God asks, “Can a mother forget her own child? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” The older I get, the more I like that.

I never ever doubted that my mom loved me. But remembering names wasn’t her spiritual gift. I asked her once why she couldn’t get my name right and she said, “You’ll understand one day.” And I do now. When my son was small, he had his jammies on inside out one Saturday. I called him Fruit of the Loom for two days.

2608, 2016

Marriage Savers

My wife and I have officially reached another anniversary. Each of them is a miracle. You don’t live with a humourist without wanting to throttle him from time to time. I was speaking to 400 pastors at a mountain resort. They said, “talk about marriage.” For some reason they stood and applauded at the end. Maybe they were just relieved I was finished. Ramona and I went back to our hotel room and I said something monumentally dumb. It went downhill from there and my dear wife locked herself in the bathroom. Imagine. I tried everything to get her to come out. Finally, I wrote on a slip of paper, “I’m sorry for saying that. Please forgive me. Please come out.” I pushed it under the door, got on my hands and knees and blew it over toward her. It was fitting. I’ve blown it often. And then I heard the most wonderful sound. She started to laugh. Laughter has been a marriage saver for us. Here are three more.

1. Gratitude A new study shows that feeling appreciated increases our commitment to stay together. The simple words “thank you” are priceless in a relationship. Maybe you say, “If you think I’m gonna be grateful, you don’t know my husband. You don’t know my wife.” I don’t. But what would your spouse look like if you applauded him or her? You’ll always find the bad; go looking for the good. Talk about it. Applaud it. Practice gratitude.

2. Kindness. At the heart of every bad marriage is selfishness. At the heart of every good marriage is servanthood. Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Kindness and compassion characterize every great marriage. Kind people take an uncommon interest in others. They serve. They live not to be comfortable, but to comfort. Not to grab, but to give. Kindness.

3. Purpose. Date nights are great, backrubs are fantastic, leaving flirtatious messages on each other’s voicemail is good (remember to dial correctly), but when we focus on God’s mission – together – marriage is at its best. When we focus on bringing glory to God together, suddenly we have better things to do than chase the stuff of earth. Focus on our eternal purpose and there’s less time for silly arguments in hotel rooms after speaking to pastors.

God bless you today as you do what you can to bring hope and joy to all your relationships.

1508, 2016

Why I go to church

I love to hear from children. Not all the time. Not while we are shopping and our two-year-old yells, “Look mama! That man is gonna have a baby!” But children sure write interesting notes to pastors. Here are a few that are too good not to share. “Dear pastor: Please say in your sermon that Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week. Sincerely, Peter Peterson.” From Arnold: “I know God loves everybody, but He never met my sister.” “I’m sorry I can’t leave more money in the offering plate, but my father didn’t give me a raise in my allowance. Could you have a sermon about a raise in my allowance? Love Patty.”

“My mother is very religious,” writes Annette, age nine. “She goes to play bingo at church every week even if she has a cold.”
And finally, Loreen, age nine: “I think a lot more people would come to your church if you moved it to Disneyland.” Loreen has a point, doesn’t she? I’ve awakened some Sundays and thought, why church? I’d like to sleep in. There’s football on. The fridge is right over there. Besides, there are hypocrites at church. What if the sermon goes into extra innings? Eleven-year-old Ralph told his pastor, “I liked your sermon. Especially when it was finished.” Ever felt that way? The truth is, there’s better entertainment out there. Besides, I’ve been hurt and disappointed at church. Where two or more are gathered in God’s name, things will eventually get messy.

So why do I go to church each Sunday? From the time our kids were small, I wanted them to see that I am part of something bigger than little old me. I’m part of a body. And when one part hurts, the others hurt too. They hurt enough to do something about it. I wanted them to see that most people at church are gracious; a few are grouchy. That’s life. I go to church to hear from God. I do this best when I listen, not when I think of others seated near me who badly need the message. I go to encourage and be encouraged. At church I connect with people so very unlike me. I need “unlike me” people in my life. I need the young guy updating me on chemo treatments. The old guy with the hearing aids and respirator. The friend going through a nasty divorce. I need to hurt, pray and help where I can.

I love one-on-one time with God. But there’s nothing quite like watching my favourite sports team live, or my favourite band in concert. In the same way, I long for what happens at church. By God’s grace, our kids go to church now too. Not because I tell them to, but because they want to. And since God is my Father, each week is a big old family reunion. Trust me, we’re a motley crew. But join us at church this week. Don’t wait for the hearse to bring you there.

1008, 2016

Three Togethers

My wife is eight months older than I. No one believes this. You see the two of us together and one of us looks like George Burns, and the other looks like my wife. Someone asked her, “Is it your dad who writes those books?” Guess what she said? “Yes.” I was surprised too. Pray for her.

One day she looked at my balding head and said, “When I agreed to grow old with you, I didn’t mean this rapidly.” Somehow we’ve managed to stay married a long time. It’s a miracle really. Of course, marriage hasn’t been a walk in the park. Especially if I say things like, “Your lasagna tastes almost as good as my mother’s.” Don’t say this, guys.

I’ve heard a ton of marriage advice. One guy told me, “I have a choice, I can be right or be happy.” Catherine Zeta-Jones said, “For marriage to be a success, every woman and every man should have his or her own bathroom.” My secret to a happy marriage is simpler. If you want something in your account, make deposits. Invest. Here are three deposits we’ve made.

1. We laugh together. It is impossible to be angry while laughing together. Sometimes the impetus for that laugh is a movie, a memory, or a touching moment where I accidentally walk into a tree.
2. We pray together. According to one study, couples who pray together regularly report “the most satisfying marriages of all.” Prayer unites us before God. It boosts honesty and humility. It deepens our communication. Lately Ramona and I have been thanking God for His amazing grace. For taking two selfish kids who hardly knew how to spell love and pulling them close to Himself and close to each other. Jude verse 20 says, “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
3. We play together. Whatever your age, keep a playful spirit. Make fun a part of your daily routine. Ramona loves to get silly notes from me. Like one I attached to a bag of peanuts one time. It said, “I hope you like these, my dear. Sorry. I sucked the chocolate off.”

That reminds me of the guy who came home to find a note next to a Nerf gun. It read, “Welcome home babe. I’m hiding in the house with a Nerf gun, here’s the other one. Loser cooks dinner. May the odds be ever in your favour.” What are some investments you’re making in your relationship account?

308, 2016

The Politician’s Fruit

Recently I spoke at a leadership banquet for Canada’s National Prayer Breakfast in Ottawa. Dinner was delayed that evening as MPs (Members of Parliament) coming to the dinner were in the midst of an important vote. Minutes later, the MPs began to arrive. “What happened?” I asked. I was told that Canada’s prime minister had “lost it,” that he had walked across the House of Commons floor to “manhandle” people he disagreed with. The footage had already gone viral and the vote was postponed. “Was I ready to speak?” Of course I was. Laughter is good at such times, so I told a joke I told my mother. “Bananas are the politician’s fruit. They’re yellow, they’re crooked, and they hang out in bunches.” Thankfully they laughed, but my mother didn’t. “Son,” she said, “we are to pray for our leaders.” She was right.

I’m told the prime minister sat in bed that night reading the Bible. It’s a good place to go when you’ve blown it. The next morning at the prayer breakfast, Justin Trudeau read verses he chose himself from Romans 12. Without fanfare, he read, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud.”  Then Mr. Trudeau sat down as former British MP Jonathan Aitken told his story. In 1999, Mr. Aitken pled guilty to perjury. Divorce followed. Then bankruptcy. Then an 18-month prison sentence. One day, his cellmate, an Irish guy named Paddy, said, “You’ve been good to me, I’d like to give you a gift.” Paddy handed him a box of porn magazines. “No thanks,” Aitken said. Paddy wasn’t happy.
“Why won’t you take my gift?” “Well,” answered the former MP, “I’ve been reading the Bible and I know my life must change.”

“Can I join you?” Paddy asked. Before long, others joined them. In time both Paddy and Aitken put their faith in Jesus Christ. After the prayer breakfast, I had lunch with Aitken. We talked about his time behind bars. “Prisoners and politicians aren’t so different,” he said. “We all need a Saviour.” How right he is. Psalm 130 says, “If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness so that we can, with reverence, serve You.”

I’m not a political guy, but I’m more aware than ever that I don’t have to agree with people for God to be at work in them. And when it comes to politicians, the Bible simply asks me to pray for them. I’m doing that like never before. We all need do-overs, don’t we? We all need to be reminded of God’s amazing grace.

2707, 2016

Larry Norman, My Mother, and Me

Music was highly important to me when I was a teen. I ranked it slightly ahead of eating and some days even ahead of girls. Steve Rendall and I would purchase the latest contemporary Christian albums, tape them (yep!), then insert them in our car tape decks. My car cost $100. That tape deck cost $300. It was so cool. Who cared about the car? We would gladly trade in all 6 cylinders on 100-watt speakers.

I remember the day Steve pulled up in his 1970 Montego. “Climb in,” he said, a grin connecting his ears. I lowered my expensive thrift store sunglasses and climbed in. “Roll up your window,” he said. I rolled it up. Then he calmly inserted a Larry Norman tape and set the volume at about 150 decibels. Moments later our ears were flapping behind our heads, it was so loud. “I was lost and blind then a Friend of mine came and took me by the hand. And He led me to His kingdom that was in another land. Now my life has changed it’s rearranged, when I think of my past I feel so strange. Wowie zowie! Well, He saved my soul, He’s the rock that doesn’t roll.”

“STEVE,” I yelled. “THAT’S GREAT!”He turned the volume way down to 500. “You’re gonna be late for what?” “No, I said that’s GREAT. Turn the volume back up.” Now you must understand that I was reared in a conservative community where such practices were frowned upon. Where Larry Norman was often confused with Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper. We were told that this so-called Christian music was shallow and that it would cause us to lose our hearing. “Impossible,” we said, before hiding our Love Song records in George Beverley Shea record jackets.And yet, for some reason, my mother wanted to listen to my music. She’d pull up a chair and sit down. I played songs from singers like Chuck Girard, Phil Keaggy, even Petra. Somehow she cared enough to listen. And she encouraged me when she heard something she liked. Which was twice.

You know, the influence of someone who cares is immeasurable. Many parents of that era said, “Turn it down or throw it out!” But she who yells the loudest isn’t always heard the best. I’m thankful for a mom whose attitude was, “If he’s gonna listen, I’d like to know what he’s listening to.” I asked her years later about the talks we had after the music died down. She said she was always looking for ways to teach me about God, and she would take whatever I gave her as a launching pad. The girl was sneaky. Sometimes I miss those days. Mom told me once that she missed them too. Although she probably didn’t miss the music nearly as much as I miss my hearing.

Question of the Day: What are you doing to connect with your children or grandchildren?

1907, 2016

Left-Handed Whoppers

A little boy was at the park with his mother. Trees swayed in a gentle breeze. Swans paddled gracefully across a pond. “You know Bobby,” said his mom, “God painted this beautiful scenery just for you.” Bobby responded, “Yes, and He painted it with His left hand.” “What makes you say that?” asked his mother. “Well,” said Bobby, “we learned at Sunday School that Jesus sits on God’s right hand.” Ah, kids.

I guess I can tell left-handed jokes because I’m a lefty, and it has its benefits. They say lefties are creative and intelligent and better at multi-tasking than our right-handed counterparts. Lefties make great artists and writers and a surprisingly high percentage of comedians. Sadly, our society wasn’t designed for lefties.

Back on April 1, 1998, Burger King placed an ad in USA Today announcing a new menu item: the Left-Handed Whopper. All the condiments were rotated 180° to suit the left-handed burger connoisseur. It was an April Fool’s Day hoax, of course, but thousands of excited lefties showed up at Burger King restaurants to request the Left-Handed Whopper. So much for us lefties being extra bright!

The truth is, most of the stuff you can buy just wasn’t designed for us. We need left-handed scissors. We have to use appliances and tools backwards. And if you find something that’s designed for lefties, it costs extra – like buying gluten-free bread. If that isn’t bad enough, we get ink on our hands when we write. We bonk elbows with righties at the table. We’re more likely to have allergies. More prone to be insomniacs. According to one study, on average, lefties don’t live as long as righties. When I heard this, I thought, maybe this world wasn’t designed for people like me. Or perhaps I wasn’t designed for this world.

There’s something awkward about existence on planet earth, isn’t there? Things fall apart, people disappoint, jobs end, loved ones pass away. And something inside of us hollers, “Hey! It shouldn’t be this way.” And we’re right. Sin came into this world and messed things up. Along came pain, death and right-handed scissors. Maybe that’s why I smile whenever I read Hebrews 13: “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God….do not forget to do good to others.” Those who care most about the coming home make the biggest difference in this one. So let’s set our eyes on the God who is making all things new and live with joy today.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” I think he was right, don’t you? Or…maybe he was left.

107, 2016

Runaway

Did you ever think of running away from home when you were a kid? Here are some actual runaway notes written by unhappy children. “Mom, I’m going to run away tomorrow at 9:30 when you and Dad are sleeping. Be sure to say goodbye forever. Emily. P.S. I will be packing tonight.” “I am running away because you think I tooted when I didn’t.” “Dear mommy, your troubles are going to be gone soon. I will run away tomorrow so you can have a better life without me.”
“Dear Mom, Dad, Family. I got mad so I ran away. – Meg, xox.”

If you know your history, you know that the Soviet Union ran away from God in 1924, becoming the first state whose ideological objective was to eliminate religion and replace it with atheism. Multitudes of believers were sent to the gulags, where most died for being “enemies of the state.” Religious property was seized, and atheism was propagated in schools. This changed in the 1980s; before long, the world’s most viewed movie, The Jesus Film, was aired for the first time on Russian television. A government official became a believer after watching the film and ordered sweeping changes in the educational system. Millions of Russian children began to hear the gospel in state-run schools.

When The Jesus Film arrived in the city of Stavropol, a team of school teachers wanted to show it to their students and base their curriculum on biblical principles. But they soon ran out of Bibles. Someone mentioned that a warehouse outside of town stored Bibles confiscated from Christians in the 1930s. So they took a truck and loaded up. An agnostic college student named Dmitri had come only for the day’s wages. Midway through the job, the young man disappeared. Dmitri was found weeping in the corner of the warehouse. He explained he had picked up a Bible to steal it, but he was unprepared for what he found inside.

He pointed to the first page. “That’s my grandmother’s signature.” Though decades separated a grandmother and her grandson, the most important message Dmitri could read was delivered in God’s time and in God’s way. I’m astounded at the lengths God will go for us. Jesus says in Matthew 18:12, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one goes astray, will he not leave the 99 on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” The answer is “yes.” No matter how far you have run away from Him, there’s a good shepherd whose arms are open wide.

Speaking of running away, here’s another note a kid left for his parents. “By the time you read this I might be leaving. If you want to see me again I will be at the first McDonalds that you see when you go right from our house.”

2106, 2016

Dear Grandma and Grandpa

If you need a laugh today, hang out with children. Ramona and I were with our one-year-old granddaughter Sophie last weekend. She’s not just the most intelligent child ever, she’s tough too. Our daughter Rachael was throwing her in the air, and Sophie smacked her head on a doorframe. “I’m so sorry,” Rachael said. Sophie patted Rachael on the head over and over. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she said. Soon she’ll be texting I’m sure. And writing notes. One little grandson wrote this note: “Dear Grandma and Grandpa, thanks for what you got me. P.S. I forgot what you got me.” A grandson sent this thoughtful note to his sick grandpa: “I’m sorry you’re about to die. Love, Mitchell.” Well, kids just say it, don’t they?

Here are more notes from children: “Dear Brody, Miss P. made me write you this note. I want to say sorry for not being sorry ‘cause I tried to feel sorry but I don’t. Liam.” Annisa wrote: “Dear tooth fairy, I lost my tooth on the 23rd of October. It is now November 12th. I lost my tooth in pizza. You owe me $1.00. Not to be hard but I need money.”

In the age of texting and email, it’s a meaningful thing to receive a note, isn’t it? I’ve kept many from my wife. One of my favourites is from when we were dating. It starts, “Dear sweatheart.” Ramona would never win a Spelling Bee, but her written words are deeply meaningful to me. Imagine receiving a letter from your favourite athlete or celebrity, the Queen or the president. You’d likely frame it and read it often. Imagine receiving a letter from God, signed and sealed for you. Imagine that He wrote of His plans for you. His love for you. You’d read it and re-read it, wouldn’t you?

Of course, we have that letter. It’s called the Bible. Far more than a collection of writings, it’s His word to the people He created in His image. Here’s a sampling of that letter from Isaiah 43: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…For I am the Lord your God.” If you feel lost and alone today, know that He cares and make time to open His letter to you. It will provide peace and direction, and it will nourish, strengthen and feed you.

Which reminds me of the note a boy named Brendan wrote to his mother: “Thank you, Mom, for making me food so I don’t die.”

1306, 2016

Wacky Dads

Each Father’s Day, my kids like to bring up interesting things I’ve done. Like the time I soaked their toothbrushes overnight in pickle juice. I’m not alone. Here are kids squealing on their dads:

“When we were growing up, my dad said the ice cream truck played music when it had run out of ice cream.” Liar. Here’s another. “My dad asked for a selfie stick for Christmas. Every time he saw someone taking a selfie he wanted a stick to hit them with.” I made a selfie stick out of a stalk of rhubarb. I called it my selfie stalk. My kids were mildly amused. “Airport security asked my dad if he had a bomb. He goes, ‘Like I’d tell you if I had a bomb.’ They detained him for four hours.” Dads, airports are the one place I try desperately not to use humour or irony. “My dad’s a horrible speller. One Christmas, my sister got a present from Satan.” I think he meant Santa. “I once walked into the kitchen to find my dad singing “Let’s Stay Together” to a bag of potato chips.” I prefer to sing to a tub of ice cream, but each to their own.

We dads might be missing a few marbles, but it’s not surprising. Being a dad drains brain cells from your head. As a young father, I was overworked and exhausted. I hardly had the energy to kiss an owie better. To complicate things, dads live in a culture where we’re underappreciated, and over-mocked. Most sitcom dads are selfish, irresponsible and incompetent.

I wish we’d shine the spotlights on dads like the one in China who carries his disabled son 18 miles to school each day. Or the single dad who didn’t know how to do his daughter’s hair, so he took a class to learn how. Or the papa who pushes his wheelchair-bound son in all sorts of events, including marathons. Let’s celebrate my neighbour Steve who refuses to let a congenital heart defect stop him from playing with his kids in front of their house in his motorized wheelchair. I also think of my own father. Overworked and underpaid, he decided it wasn’t about the cash, it was about the kids. So he found time for me and displayed the love of my heavenly Father. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss him.

Dads have an awesome privilege and an amazing promise from Proverbs 20:7: “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!” Each of us can walk with integrity today. I’d love to hear how you’re leaving a godly legacy. Let’s make sure our kids think we’re just a little bit loopy. One girl wrote about her dad: “Whenever dad ate corn on the cob, he’d act like a typewriter and go ‘ding’ at the end of each row.”

706, 2016

I Proposed In A Chain Letter

I consider ours a miracle marriage, especially when you consider that I proposed to my wife in a chain letter. Here it is:

Dear Ramona Bjorndal,

This chain letter was started by my ancestors just after the great flood and it has NEVER BEEN BROKEN! To keep the chain going, all you have to do is marry me. This will include providing decent meals, clean laundry and lots of love for the next 60 years. In return, you’ll receive my undying devotion, occasional flowers, chocolate and access to my car keys until death do us part. If you break the chain, you will be destined to a life of misery and boredom, much like the math class we are sitting in.

It was clever stuff for a tenth grader. Four years later when I summoned the courage to show it to her, she laughed and agreed to marry me anyway. It wasn’t easy at first. Rodney Dangerfield said, “My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met.” I felt like that the first year. I made more mistakes than most baseball umpires, but my wife stuck with me.

One August, we returned to the same hotel where we first shared a pillow. The staff was so impressed that a couple could stay together this long they couldn’t spoil us enough. They wheeled in complimentary chocolates and a large bottle of champagne on ice. I thought it was bubble bath, so we used it accordingly.

There are a thousand reasons we still share the same phone number and address. Here are just two.

1. We sweat the small stuff. Early on, I left mud on the carpet and whiskers in the sink. I even left my underwear where they landed. My wife left them there. I learned a valuable lesson: take care of small things before they become big ones. If I’m last out of bed, I make it. I’ve done this twice. And I kiss her lips before I shave each morning. Just the other day, I even located the laundry hamper.

2. We left no alternatives. The first three years of our marriage were miserable. Until I got a divorce – a divorce from loving myself and seeking my own way. I was reading the book of Galatians one night and this smacked me: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” I thought, Phil Callaway is dead. Now Jesus lives in me. So I need to get off the sofa sometimes and do things for her that I’d like done for myself. Divorce was never an option. Neither was murder. I’m so glad.

When we checked out of the hotel, our hostess congratulated us. “That’s a long time to be with one person!” she said. “Yep,” I replied, “but it would have been a whole lot longer without her.”

106, 2016

Life at Work

The summer before I went to college I got a job on a pig farm. Each day, before opening my eyes, I prayed that it was raining, snowing or that a monsoon had arrived – anything to get me out of working! I hated it.

But God didn’t answer my prayer. In fact, it was one of the driest summers on record. My boss Jesse was a hard-living, chain-smoking guy who wanted me to smoke too. “It’ll build up an immunity to disease,” he said.

I had a lousy attitude all summer – until Jesse handed me a nail gun. I loved that thing. You just lined up a wooden stud, rested the nail gun against it and pulled the trigger. Presto! A nail came flying out. It was the coolest thing. What could possibly go wrong?

With Jesse on the other side of the wooden stud, I pushed the nail gun against it, pulled the trigger, and—missed the stud. The sharp nail stuck into the poor guy’s shoulder. Jesse looked down, stunned, as if he’d just been shot – with a nail gun.

“Sorry,” I said, thinking, ‘Just after he kills me, he’s gonna keel over and die.’

He did neither. Just pulled out the nail, cursed a blue streak, then asked me, “Do you wanna quit or can I fire you?” That was my last day on the pig farm.

Few things can determine our level of joy like our attitude toward work. I regret having such a lousy one that summer. In fact, I wish I would have had the wisdom and foresight to view work as a blessing, and each day as an opportunity to brighten the workplace. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” says Colossians 3:23. This changes everything.

So today I sat down and came up with ten things I love about being a writer:

  1. You can live anyplace you like. The writer has the freedom to starve almost anywhere.
  2. You can stare out windows without your spouse asking what you’re up to.
  3. Your career isn’t over at 30, like most professional athletes.
  4. Your overhead is cheap. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was written on the back of an old envelope.
  5. You can get your picture in the paper without being charged for a criminal act.
  6. You can work in your bathrobe without being charged with indecency.
  7. No heavy lifting (except when 5,000 books arrive.)
  8. You can speak your mind long after you’re dead.
  9. You can receive notes like this one: “My toddler chewed most of your book. I need another one.”
  10. And this one: “I’m a mother of five. I lock myself in the bathroom and read your book. When I come out I feel like I can face the world again.”

Whatever kind of work you’re involved in, go looking for things you’re thankful for today. My buddy Wayne stuffs insulation into nooks and crannies, and frankly I don’t know a more happy, purpose-filled guy. His work is worship.

If you’re wondering what happened to Jesse, I was speaking at a men’s conference far from home, and signing books afterwards.

A tall, lanky guy handed me one and I looked up at him.

“Jesse,” I said. “No way!” It was him. “How’s your shoulder?” I asked. He laughed.

“I came to Jesus a few years ago,” and there were tears in his eyes. I asked Jesse where he lives and what he does. He said, “I’m working on that same pig farm and loving it.”

3105, 2016

My Best Advice

I like to hand out advice when people ask for it. And the truth is, I’ve learned a few things through the years. I’ve learned that if your dad says no, ask your mom. I’ve learned to never use my favourite song as my morning alarm (I’ll be sick of it in a week). I’ve learned that if I’m in a barbershop with two barbers, always choose the barber with the worst haircut. Think about that one for a few seconds.

I’ve learned that you don’t pull on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old lone ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim. Okay, those are song lyrics.But what if you had a chance to learn from the wisest man who ever lived? Would you? Of course you would. In Proverbs 22-24, wise King Solomon offers golden principles to live by. Some make me smile. Follow through on his advice and you’ll ramp up your joy today. Here is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Solomon’s advice:

• Don’t keep company with hotheads. Temper is contagious. Don’t get infected.
• Don’t gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll be left with nothing but the shirt on your back.
• Observe people who are good at their work. Skilled workers are always in demand.
• Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
• Give yourselves to disciplined instruction. Open your ears to tested knowledge.
• Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk. Don’t eat too much food and get fat.
• Listen with respect to the father who raised you, and when your mother grows old, don’t neglect her.
• It’s better to be wise than strong.
Rescue the perishing. Don’t hesitate to step in and help.
Don’t talk about your neighbours behind their backs.
• Don’t say, “A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there, sit back, take it easy.” Do you know what comes next? A dirt-poor life, with poverty as your permanent houseguest!
• Eat honey; it’s good for you. Likewise knowledge, and wisdom for your soul. Get that and your future is secured.
• And finally, don’t for a minute envy careless rebels; soak yourself in the fear of God.

I love God’s Word. Spend a little time in it every day and you may end up as wise as me. Then you’ll be giving out great advice like this. Never ever test the depth of a river with both feet.

2605, 2016

The bad old days

Some love talking about the good old days. But I’m telling you, my childhood wasn’t easy. We had to wait three minutes for our tube radios to warm up. We had to wade through six feet of green shag carpet to change a TV channel. To get reception, you adjusted rabbit ears or sent your brother up onto the roof to move the antenna. “Hold it right there!” you’d yell. “I think that’s Star Trek. Or it could be Lawrence Welk.” Those were the only two shows we had.

I’m telling you, the good old days weren’t all good.

There were no microwaves. Chicken pot pies took an hour to cook. If you wanted a mobile phone, you jerry-rigged two tin cans and a string. Phones were attached to walls. It took about a minute to dial any given number. Our phone had a three-foot cord, so you couldn’t move while talking. People in the room could hear every word you said. If you wanted privacy, you bought a curly extension cord, hid under the kitchen table and whispered until someone got wise to what you were up to, or just walked over to the wall and hung up on you.

We had to roll down car windows, lift garage doors and work out math problems without calculators. We used typewriters with no delete key, just little bottles of white-out. And when you painted your sister’s blouse with white-out, it was permanent. It caused your mother to use swear words like, “You stinker.”

No, my friends, the good old days were not all good.

Singer/songwriter Carly Simon once sang, “These are the good old days.” And I think she was onto something there. Each era has its obstacles and opportunities, its jolts and its joys. That’s life.

An old guy told me he was headed for the coffee shop. “We talk about how bad things are,” he said. “The kids. Music. Politics.”

I said, “Yah, these are tough times. But here’s an idea. Try talking about what God is up to. He’s at work, you know.” I told him about my friend who lost his house to a horrendous fire. How his church gathered around him. I told him of the 18-year-old who said, “My parents raised me an atheist. They gave me no hope, no meaning, no joy.”

Then he smiled. “I decided to rebel,” I told my older friend. “I found all these things and more in Jesus. God is at work. He’s doing a new thing. Right now. Today.”

“Hmmm,” he said, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

But I think we should. I think today should be busting at the seams with gratitude.

There is much to smile about. For one thing, I have GPS. I have never once missed folding those roadmaps.

1605, 2016

That’s Ridiculous

Ever said something so ridiculous that you surprised yourself? I may be the only guy in history to thank a police officer for a speeding ticket. He handed it to me and I said, “Thank you.” He was as surprised as I was.

A friend was checking out at a grocery store so he put up one of those plastic dividers between his groceries and the groceries of the lady behind him. The clerk scanned his items then picked up the divider and tried to scan it repeatedly. She couldn’t find a bar code on the divider and was perplexed. “Do you know how much this is?” she asked. My friend is a fast thinker. He said, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I’ll buy that today.” The clerk said, “Okay.” And set it behind the cash register. In a grocery store in Germany, my daughter Rachael was trying to buy some popcorn. “Habenzi maize?” she asked. The clerks squinted at her, confused, like her oars didn’t reach the water. Desperate for popcorn, she took to making animated motions complete with sound effects “Pop pop pop. Habenzi maize?” She performed her little act for five different workers before one said, “Aw popcorn.”

We’ve all done dumb things, and we’ve believed dumb things too, haven’t we? I’ve believed some whoppers in my life, but none bigger than this one: “No one will ever know.” I listened to that voice the morning I saw five or six quarters on my brother’s dresser. I stole them and bought more candy than a family of eight could consume. Here are three things I learned.

1. Sin carries guilt. You eat four pounds of forbidden sugar in various flavors and I promise you will feel lousy in every way. You throw up. You can’t eat supper. And worst of all, you lay awake that night and a still small voice lets you know you sinned. Sin carries guilt.
2. Sin carries consequences. When your brother misses his quarters and finds two bags of half-eaten candy beneath your bed, he doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to know why you’ve been sick and to convince your mother that you are a thief. And when your mother opens the Bible and reads Hebrews 3:12-13 to you, paraphrasing it with your name in it, you listen. “Be careful, Philip. Make sure that your heart is not evil, tripping you up and turning you away from the living God.” Sin carries consequences.
3. Sin can be forgiven. Not just by a brother or a mother, but by God himself. Romans 5:20 tells us that the more we see our sinfulness, the more we see God’s abounding grace forgiving us. John 3:18 agrees: “He is able to save completely all who come to God through Him.”

I was so excited when my brother thanked me for paying back his quarters that I said, “Me too.”

805, 2016

The Energizer Mommy

It’s time for me to tell you five things I never heard my mother say:

1) “There’s money in my purse if you ever need some.”
2) “Don’t bother wearing a jacket. The cold helps build your immune system.”
3) “Well, if Stevie’s mom says it’s OK, that’s good enough for me.”
4) “Feel free to use your bed as a trampoline. I don’t mind.” And finally,
5) “Your father will never know about this. Let’s talk about it, you and me.”

We used to brag about our dads in the playground, but I knew that moms were pretty incredible too. I had seen them carry up to four children at once. And moms had babies. In those days, at least a dozen, just for starters. Moms were strong. Supermom Angela Cavallo lifted a 3,500 pound 1964 Chevy to save her son who was pinned underneath. Lydia Angiyou fought a polar bear long enough for hunters to arrive, saving her son and two nephews.

Moms are amazing. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the record for most kids belongs to Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev of Russia with 69 children. Of the 69, there were 16 sets of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets. I’m exhausted just telling you that.
The mother who had the largest baby on record is Carmelina Fedele of Italy. Her newborn weighed 22 pounds, 8 oz. This would be a bit like me trying to pass an avocado through my nose.

I’m told that over the course of 18 years, the average mom spends 8,200 hours cooking for her family, 11,000 hours cleaning and fixing stuff around the house, and a whopping 16,800 hours taking care of the kids. I think it took that long just to potty train one of ours. In 2012, stay at home moms averaged 94.7 hours of work per week. Moms need six hands and the vitality of the Energizer Bunny.
There is no calling quite as noble and influential as that of a mother. Proverbs 31:25-31 says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

I’ve talked to mothers who feel overwhelmed and overworked, but few who feel over appreciated. So it’s time we thank our moms. Otherwise,
they may completely lose their minds and start saying things like, “You should stay inside more often. Maybe watch some TV.” Or, “Let me smell that shirt—Ah, it’s good for another week.”

105, 2016

A Few Good Words

I was a skinny child. So skinny that I needed suspenders to keep my Speedo from falling down. So skinny I was swimming in a lake one summer and a dog came out to fetch me—three times. People looking for a toothpick at the dinner table would grab me. You get the picture.
It isn’t easy being a skinny kid. I suppose I became a writer partly as a response to the enormous humiliation of being teased as a child. A sense of humour and my ability with words were the only weapons in my arsenal.

In elementary school a classmate broke my thumb with a hockey stick, threw snow in my face, then laughed as I cried. His name was Ken, but I called him other things – things I’m not proud of. I told him things about his family history and his future. I knew he was gonna break my other thumb. Instead, he skated away. I realized something wonderful that day: sticks and stones can break bones, but words can shatter something far deeper. In high school, an upperclassman named Larry approached me in the hallway and said, “Callaway, you’re so skinny we should slide you under the door when we need stuff.” Or something like that. I couldn’t think of a gracious response, so I said, “Well, you’re so fat you broke your family tree!” He was stunned. I was on a terrible roll. I said, “You’re so fat, when you bend over you cause an eclipse on three continents.” I couldn’t stop myself. “You’re so fat, you beep when you back up.” I thought he would murder me. Instead, the colour drained from his face as he walked away.

Words. When I realized I could wield them like a sword, I dreamed of writing bestselling novels jammed with humour, sarcasm and revenge.
But two things stood in the way: A praying mother. And a father who promised me a watch if I read one chapter of Proverbs each day for a month. I began to encounter verses like, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (12:18), and “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life” (15:4). Someone informed me the other day that I’ve now written almost thirty books. I have written all of them on my knees, praying that God would somehow use the stories I tell to change lives. Miraculously, He answers that prayer in the most surprising ways.

I was speaking about God’s grace at a large convention recently and when I stepped off the stage, guess who was waiting for me? Ken. He gave me a bear hug until my ribs squeaked. There were tears streaming down his face. Ten minutes later Larry elbowed his way through a group of people and opened his arms. Tears were in his eyes. They were in mine too. The three of us stood there together. Amazed by grace. On even ground at the foot of the cross.

“Isn’t God good?” said Ken, taking my right hand and squeezing it hard. “How’s the thumb?” he asked. “Never better,” I said. “Never better.”

2504, 2016

Without Delay

My wife and I arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport eager to hop on a flight home. “On Time” said the Departures screen. We went through security smiling all the way. Once we pulled our shoes back on, I checked the screen again just so I could smile even wider. But a flashing yellow square indicated that our flight was delayed half an hour. We sat and talked a bit, then I got up and wandered over to the screen. Our flight was now delayed an hour. Five minutes later, it was delayed two hours. And then, the kicker. The flight was delayed six hours. SIX hours.

I wanted some sympathy. So I sat down and sent messages to my kids. “Flight delayed. See you a year from next Tuesday.” “Sorry,” said my son. “Can you bring me home a palm tree? It’s cold here.” My daughter-in-law said she was sorry too, then had the audacity to add, “A wise man once challenged me on my perspective. In fact, it was you. So, take Mom out for ice cream, but first, tell me 15 reasons this delay is a blessing.” Well, imagine the nerve. Now, you may know from listening to Laugh Again that I am not the most patient of men. And at no time am I more impatient than while trying to get home from a trip. I say things like, “I don’t know why patience is a virtue. Why can’t hurry-up-and-back-this-plane-out-of-the-gate be a virtue?” But there I sat. And began my assignment from my daughter-in-law.

Here’s my list of 15 reasons a six-hour delay is a blessing:
1. These chairs are really comfy.
2. We can see palm trees from here.
3. I get to practice what I preach about slowing down.
4. We are safe. Our flight has not crashed. Not yet.
5. They just gave us meal tickets. In an hour we will eat as much as we can lift.
6. Mom is leaning against me as I type. When I was fifteen, I would have done anything to spend an afternoon with her.
7. We have Netflix.
8. We won’t watch Netflix because we have good books.
9. I’m thankful I can count to 10.
10. We have a new daughter-in-law who listens to my advice.
11. It’s not snowing here.
12. There are at least a hundred people waiting for this flight and I get to encourage some of them.
13. I am mature enough to listen to my daughter-in-law’s advice.
14. Jesus is with us. And He’s more reliable than American Airlines.
15. I can see the ice cream stand from here.

Like just about every positive virtue, patience is born of thanksgiving. I don’t know what you’re up against today, but God’s word to us is clear: “In everything give thanks.” So consider making a list of the blessings all around you. Without delay.

1704, 2016

One Ring

My oldest son’s favourite book series by a country mile is Lord of the Rings. He read all three of the thick tomes by the time he was ten. By his fifteenth birthday he had read them three times and was starting again for the fourth time. Crazy, I thought. He read them between playing basketball and ice hockey and table tennis. He read them when he should have been studying. He read them when he should have been snoring. And when I told him they were making three movies about them, I had to peel him off the ceiling.

Shortly after we attended the first movie together, Stephen turned sixteen. One night, I spoke to him of the importance of reaching this milestone. How, like his favourite hobbit Frodo, he would be faced with great temptations and opportunities as he journeyed through the darkness of earth. I said, “I have a small gift for you as a covenant between us that you will walk the way Frodo walked.” And so, I opened a wooden box. Inside was a big fat cigar. No, I’m kidding. It was a genuine replica of the ring – white silver, complete with Elvish engravings. I read a Scripture verse: “So honour the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly” (Joshua 24:14). Then I said, “For sixteen years that’s been our prayer for you, Stephen. That you would honour God and serve Him.” We prayed together. Then I hung the ring from a gold chain and placed it around his neck.
There the ring stayed.

Until one night, Stephen arrived home from school carrying small pieces of the chain. It had busted. The ring was gone. We searched everywhere – along sidewalks and hallways, through classrooms and in cars. But, nothing. It was permanently gone, I knew. Hanging around someone else’s neck. But Stephen began to pray, each time at supper. At breakfast he prayed, believing he’d find it. I hated to doubt, but I’m a grown up. It’s what we do best. Months passed. Then one evening I noticed a particularly wide grin on Stephen’s face. The boy had been walking home from school when a glint of reflected sunlight caught his eye. He held his hand out and opened it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the ring. Oh me of little faith.

I had been praying that he wouldn’t be too disappointed when his prayers weren’t answered. But here Stephen was, asking God to do the impossible, something He has delighted in doing since the dawn of time. If you’ve been praying a long time without seeing results, don’t give up, okay? Steve will tell you that good things come to those who persevere. And each time he looks at that ring, I hope it reminds him to honour God and serve Him wholeheartedly. I hope it reminds him that those who ask, receive. And I hope he never stops believing in the God of the impossible.

1004, 2016

Why Knot?

One of the highlights of my young life was Boys’ Brigade. It was like Boy Scouts, but put on by our church. Our company leader, Chuck Howell, was about as nervous a man as I ever had the joy of popping a paper bag near. He was bald, and his high tenor voice got higher the madder he became. “The Boys’ Brigade,” he would remind us, “was founded to develop Christian character through discipline and order. You are out of order. Sit down. Stop talking. Or I will…” By this time his voice was too high for us to understand what he said he was going to do.

At Boy’s Brigade we learned how to build a fire, stack wood like a log cabin and light it with one match. We learned how to send distress signals, and tie an Alpine Butterfly Knot. These skills would have been useful had I chosen scouting as a career. And it was this thought that helped drive Mr. Howell out of his mind the weekend our entire troupe and half a dozen leaders went camping on Baldy Mountain. At campfire, Steve Porr pointed out that he failed to see the value of much of what we were learning.

“How will smoke signals help if one of us is injured?” he pondered. “Can’t we just climb in your station wagon and drive to a hospital?”
That was the last straw. Mr. Howell turned around and kicked a tree, and sent us to bed early. By morning, his station wagon was gone. Mr. Wittman lined us up that morning. “I know your parents well,” he said. And we were quieter after that. Camp inspection came each morning after breakfast. We decided to hide our dirty dishes in the woods. It was much easier than heating up water. And we won the prize that weekend for cleanest campsite. Mr. Wittman was amazed.

On a hike up Mount Baldy, some of us reached the top first and began to pry boulders from their resting places. Around campfires that night, tales were told of rocks smashing through the forest, taking down small trees in their path. When I think of childhood, I am amazed that all of us survived. The Bible talks about angels watching over us. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways,” says Psalm 91:11.

I have no doubt angels exist and that we kept some of them very busy, and I’m grateful for God’s amazing grace. I’m also thankful for Boys’ Brigade and Mr. Howell. He was right about some things. From an Alpine Butterfly Knot you can make a chair to lift a child up. And the North Star can be found by lining up the two stars off the end of the Big Dipper. Next time I’m lost, I shall know that.

And speaking of grace, when Mr. Wittman talked to my parents, all he said was, “The boys in your son’s tent won the prize for cleanest campsite.”

304, 2016

The Joy of Forgiveness

People. Do you have some in your life? They add flavour and fun and laughter. But sometimes….

Well, I came to work today and discovered that someone – I think I know who – had put about 300 balloons in my office. Apparently she and some friends had some extra time. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the guy who came home to find that someone had managed to sneak a live goat into his living room. Imagine standing there watching a goat eat your sofa cushion. I would gather up my belongings and move to a cave in the Peruvian jungle.

Another guy sneaked into his friend’s house and hid ten alarm clocks – in cabinets, behind couches, in hard to reach places. He set the first one to go off at 2:30 am, with the rest ringing in at 15-minute intervals. I think he became a “former friend” after that.

A four-year-old once prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” If people have piled your trash baskets high with junk and you’d like to bring the joy back, you’ve come to the right place today. But how do we live with a grin when people around us keep turning that grin upside down?

Several years ago, researchers asked nearly 10,000 U.S. residents, “Would you say this is true or false: I’ve held grudges against people for years.” The study showed that those who answered “yes” reported higher rates of heart disease and cardiac arrest, elevated blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain than those who were able to forgive. Unforgiveness is toxic. If you are living with some hanging around your house, it could literally be killing you. I asked some students recently what happens to them when they don’t forgive. There was silence. Then the responses came: I feel angry. I feel guilty. My joy is gone. I’m irritated real easily. I get headaches. I have no peace. I can’t laugh.

There’s a little plaque hanging in our house that helps me in this area. It’s from Psalm 103. It’s amazing. Listen, “God does not deal with us according to our sins.” Wow. True forgiveness begins with gratitude for the size of the debt God has paid for me. Then it means refusing to talk about my rights. In fact, I can’t stand on my rights and forgive. Remember it’s God’s strength alone in us that gives us the supernatural power to extend the same forgiveness to others that God has shown us.

Let’s refuse to allow unforgiveness to steal our health or our sanity or our laughter for one more day. And now, I think I’ll call my daughter and forgive her for putting these balloons in my office.

2703, 2016

The Greatest Escape

I was not a model student. I didn’t make the honour roll, I made the “horror roll.” In fifth grade I would watch the clock, thinking, “When are they gonna let us outa here?” The windows were prison bars. Miss Weismuller paced back and forth wielding her yard stick like a billy club. I dreamed of escape, of daring plans. Perfectly timed diversions. And presto! No more math class. Maybe that’s why I love a good escape story to this day.
Most of the prisoners who attempt escape get caught. If you ever want to get out of prison, here are a few things you should not do:

1) Don’t break out one day before your sentence is up. That’s what Andrew Wilson did in Kentucky. He was caught and he got to start all over.

2) Don’t post your whereabouts on Facebook. Chris Crego fled from the law. His only blunder? He mentioned exactly where he was on social media. U.S. Marshals captured him, confiscated his phone and his freedom.

3) Don’t get stuck. A Brazilian inmate tried to squeeze his way through a hole he had dug in a prison wall. Guards stumbled upon him; well, half of him. His legs were dangling on the inside of the wall. The top half of his body was outside the prison. The guards posed for a few selfies, then threw him back into jail.

4) Don’t visit a prison guard at his house. After James Russell escaped from the Olympic Corrections Centre in Washington, he knocked on a door to ask if he could borrow a phone. Unfortunately, the man who answered knew him. He was a prison guard.

One of my favorite movies is “The Great Escape.” It’s the story of a mass breakout of 76 prisoners from a German POW camp during World War II. Most of the prisoners are caught, and it doesn’t end well for them. Still I’m fascinated by their resolve. You have to admire the elaborate lengths people will go to gain their freedom.

Each Easter we celebrate a far greater escape. The Son of God lay in a borrowed tomb. The hope of the world was dead. Death was final. Everyone knew that. And then the unthinkable happened. The stone was rolled away. Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive. Hundreds of eye witnesses said so. Death was defeated once and for all. Because Jesus is alive, the prison doors are wide open and the guards are nowhere to be found.

If you’re facing fear, God offers his love. If you’re feeling trapped, God offers you freedom. Freedom from guilt, from sin, from despair, freedom ultimately from the grave. In John 11, Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” How can I hear that without smiling? It’s the greatest news of all.
Happy Easter, my friend.

2003, 2016

A Bunch of Baloney

I love the English language. Here are a few alternative definitions to common English words:

• Selfish: What the owner of a seafood store does.
• Rubberneck: What you do to relax your wife.
• Subdued: A dude who works on a submarine.
• Benign: What you be after you be eight.
• Primate: Removing your spouse from the front of the TV.
• Paralyze: Two far-fetched stories.

My Dad used phrases that confused me. “Hey son, cat got your tongue?” No, no, the cat doesn’t have my tongue. Or he’d say, “We’ll go to Disneyland when pigs fly.” Or, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” We didn’t even have chickens. Of course, I came to understand that my Dad was using a linguistic expression called an idiom.

Here are three common idioms, and their origins:

1) “Spill the beans”
This means to reveal a secret. In ancient Greece on election day, a good citizen would receive a handful of beans. Some of them were white, and some were black. One container for each candidate was set out, and the citizen would place a white bean in the container if he/she approved of the candidate and a black bean if he/she did not. At the end of the day they’d spill the beans, to tally up the votes.

2) “The cold shoulder”
This is a rude way of telling someone they aren’t welcome. In medieval England when it was time for guests to leave, the host would give them a cold piece of meat from the shoulder of beef, mutton, or pork. (There are better ways, I think. Sometimes my Dad would say to our guests, “Quick, everybody into the backyard.” Then he’d lock the door. Okay, I made that up.)

3) “That’s a bunch of baloney”
Baloney (or bologna) is a lunch meat that sometimes contains actual meat products. It’s made up of odds and ends and cheeses and hoofs and things you’d rather not know about. When I was a kid, it was all we could afford. Then I tasted real chicken and turkey and beef, and baloney was forever ruined for me. I couldn’t settle for a lousy substitute anymore.

We’ve all settled for some baloney in our lives, haven’t we? Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” It’s taken me far too long to figure this out, but the more I taste the real thing, the less attractive substitutes are. And the less attractive sin is.

Today, may we find ourselves saying no to temporary substitutes for the real thing, not because we don’t want pleasure, but because we want true pleasure that is only found in Christ. The joy will return, and increasingly we’ll give the cold shoulder to phony baloney.

503, 2016

Just the Facts

I’m a voracious reader, so I’m constantly jotting things down, hoping you’ll enjoy them on Laugh Again. Here are just a few of the notes my wife has graciously rescued from beneath the sofa. These I will file in the “Astounding Facts” category:

• Alaskans consume more ice cream per capita than anyone else on earth
• It costs more to manufacture a Coke can than the cola inside
• 19% of parents say their children ask, “Are we there yet?” more than 10 times on a trip (And I noticed that 66% of my children had to go to the bathroom the moment we backed out of the driveway.)
• Three Mile Island is only 2½ miles long
• Until 1859, baseball umpires sat behind home plate in rocking chairs. (Reminds me of the cartoon of the two elderly ladies in rocking chairs. One says to the other, “I’m getting so old all my friends in heaven will think I didn’t make it.”)
• The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds
• There is an airport in Calcutta, India, named Dum Dum Airport. In that airport, a sign was placed there by the Airport Authority of India: “Eating Carpet Strictly Prohibited.” (I agree entirely. The practice has got to stop.)
• 84% of American pet owners say they think of their pets as children. Half would sooner choose a dog or cat for companionship on a desert island than a human. (Not me. If I were told I could bring just one thing to a desert island, I wouldn’t go.)

You know that a new study shows that 100% of humans die? It’s an epidemic and that’s a fact. So the most important thing to know is where we’re going when your time is up. I’m just glad that we don’t have to worry about it. Our eternal destiny doesn’t hinge on how much we’ve achieved, or how much we know, but on who we know. When I was just a kid I knelt by my styrofoam bed and asked Jesus to save me. My mama had shown me what the Bible says – “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” and, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In the time it takes you to snap your fingers, a ray of light can circle the globe seven times. But your prayers travel faster than that. So talk to God today. Thank Him that He loved the world so much that He sent His son, that whoever believes in Jesus won’t perish but have eternal life. He is the true joy giver. And that’s a fact.

2802, 2016

What’s in a Name?

When I was a kid we used to tell name jokes. We stood in the schoolyard and one of us would say, “What do you call a lady with one leg shorter than the other? Eileen Dover.” And we would laugh until we had to sit down. “How about a guy without arms and legs hanging on the wall? Art. What if he’s on the floor? Matt. What if he’s buried six feet under? Doug. How about three feet under? Douglas.” Back in those days, naming your child was an easier task than it is today. There were only about eight baby names to choose from. Timmy and Tammy, Ray and Rachael, John and Jane, Jake and Jackie. But around 1993, parents became dissatisfied with traditional names. Yes, mothers began making up names during delivery.

“That’s a beautiful baby. What’s his name?”
“Help.”
“Help? You named him Help?”
“Yes. If you were in my gown, you’d know why.”

Here are some actual names given out since 1993: there’s Baby Boi, I’munique, Abstinence, Phelony, Love-child, and I’adorher. There are tech inspired names like Apple, Siri, and Hashtag. I’m not making these up. Some of these kids change their names; others have sued their parents. There’s a lot in a name, isn’t there?

Harry Hopman knew the power of a name. Harry was a famous tennis player and coach whose genius lay in his ability to motivate students. One of his pupils was a little slow, so he named him “Rocket.” Another was weak and frail, so he named him “Muscles.” Keep reading to find out what became of these boys. Jesus did something similar. He gave names to some of his followers. Simon he named Rocky. Or Peter. And “Peter” means Rock. If you’ve read the story of Peter, you may think Jesus was joking. Peter was anything but a rock. He even denied Jesus three times to save his own skin. But Jesus knew what Peter could accomplish with God’s help, and Peter became the leader of the early church. Jesus was right when he said, “upon this Rock I will build my church.” Remember Harry Hopman, the tennis coach? Harry encouraged and coached his slow understudy “Rocket” and the weak student “Muscles.” “Muscles” is now known in the tennis world as Ken Rosewall, a top ranking amateur, pro tennis player, later dubbed, “Little Master of the Courts.” And “Rocket?” His real name is Rod Laver, one of the greatest players in tennis history.

In the Bible, names have great significance. Revelation 2:17 tells us that those who are victorious will be given a new name in heaven. If your name is Zerphon the third, that is very good news. But God has already given us new names. Through simple faith in Jesus, God calls us “Son, Daughter, Holy, Righteous. He even calls us Forgiven. I hope you’ll reflect on that and give him thanks today.

2202, 2016

Everyday Hero

Most of us don’t feel very heroic. We roll out of bed Monday, put our face on, and trudge off to work where we spend the morning trying to remember what we were avoiding doing on Friday. Then we find ourselves daydreaming… Flames leap from a building. “Sparky is still inside!” a lady screams as neighbours restrain her. You don your cape and leap over a tall hedge, crashing through the front door, to emerge with Sparky in your arms. You hand the poodle to his thankful owner and the house collapses in flames. The poodle breeders’ association awards you a pink ribbon and you hit the cover of Heroes Magazine.
Then your boss shakes you awake. “Hey Sparky,” he says. And you remember, ‘I’m just an ordinary person.’

Our Laugh Again Hero of the day is an ordinary person. Toni-Marie Norman from Richmond, British Columbia wrote to tell me her story. “One night I was outside enjoying a cup of coffee on the deck of my second floor apartment. Suddenly I noticed a big burly man coming across the lawn headed for the apartment below. He began hollering. Then I heard a scuffle and cries of help. ‘Are you okay?’ I shouted.

‘She’s fine,’ the attacker replied. So I leaned over the railing and yelled, ‘I know it was an intruder. Help is on the way.’ The crook walked out onto the deck below me. I grabbed a heavy hanging flowerpot and waited. He was looking for me, but he didn’t think to look up. I raised the pot high, aimed carefully, and let it go. The flowerpot hit him – smack! – on the head. When the police arrived he was still a bit wobbly. I was named ‘The Flowerpot Lady’ from that night on. I also made a new friend and found that my neighbour below was a Christian, too.” I salute you, Toni-Marie. Sometimes it takes less than we think to make a big difference. If you doubt me, here are six ideas to help you be a true hero this very day:

1) Encourage someone
2) Show hospitality
3) Put others first
4) Be kind
5) Listen
6) Simply be faithful. 1 Peter 4:8-10 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly…Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.”

Live this way and there will be nothing ordinary about you. In fact, you’ll likely find out that God delights in using cracked pots like me, and like you. And sometimes, He uses flowerpots too.

1602, 2016

#Selfie

When I was a kid, it was almost impossible to get a good snapshot of yourself. No one took selfies in those days. You couldn’t afford them. You bought film and mailed it away to be developed. And about 20 of 24 of the pictures came back completely black because the camera malfunctioned. Of the four good pictures, one might be of your eyebrow.

Whenever Grandpa Callaway visited, he brought his camera and a box of flashbulbs. We spent half of Christmas day trying to get one good family picture. We’d get all dressed up, slick our hair back with Vaseline, smile widely, and Grandpa would click the shutter – and, nothing. The flashbulb wouldn’t flash. So he’d mutter something and pull the bulb out, shake it, study it, lick it, and jam it back in. Then the flash would go off while the camera was pointed at a lampshade. Finally, on the thirteenth attempt, he would snap a picture in which my parents were smiling but the rest of us were smacking each other or glaring off into space. By the time Gramps got a picture taken the Vaseline had hardened. You could feel this crusty layer up there for a week. So, obviously, I love new technology.

In 2013 the Oxford Dictionary introduced the word “selfie.” Next came the selfie stick, which allows us to take our picture all day. Here are a few types of selfie. There’s the “I’m-In-Bahamas-While-You’re-In-A- Snowdrift-In-Montana” selfie. There’s the “Me-And-My-Pet-With-The-Same-Expression” selfie. There’s the “We’ve-Got-Great-Seats-At-the-Concert-While-You’re-At-Home-Doing- Boring-Stuff” selfie. I’ve taken a few selfies. My favourite is a close-up of my nostrils which I took by accident. We’ve always been self-centered. Now, we are certifiably selfie-centered. Four out of five social media posts are about one topic: me. We are living for likes. Scientists say that when we receive positive affirmation from our posts, our brains release dopamine, a legalized drug that gives us a buzz. We are literally addicted to ourselves.

Of course, such tools can be used to encourage and build others up, and I will continue doing that. But if those things that we want more than God are idols, well, yikes! Let’s never let a good thing become an ultimate thing. We’ll end up missing the great joy God has for us. I’m not for returning to the flashbulb, but if we want the joy back, I think we should have more visits and phone calls, more actual face time. And more time with Jesus, who made Him self of no reputation, who asks us to deny ourselves and follow Him. To stop living for likes and start living for the one who loves us.

1002, 2016

Love Languages

One of the joys of visiting other countries is having the chance to read badly translated signs. Here’s one from an airport in China, which reads, “If you are stolen, call the police at once.” In Taiwan, the Pepsi slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation,” was mistakenly translated, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead!” A Kentucky Fried Chicken billboard in China translated “Finger lickin’ good” into “Eat your fingers off.” Translation work isn’t easy. If you’re a married guy, you know this. Ramona and I were packing for a conference in Hong Kong and she said, “Sometimes you don’t listen to me.” At least I think that’s what she said. I was busy, you know.

In Hong Kong I discovered that Gary Chapman was speaking at the conference too. Gary’s book The Five Love Languages has been translated into 49 languages and when I had a chance to join him for a meal, I decided to ask for advice. “I have a (ahem) friend, who’s wondering which love language his wife speaks,” I said. “Well,” Gary replied, “the five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch.” “But how would this friend discover his wife’s love language?” “Ask three questions: How does she express love to others? What does she complain about? What does she request most often? If she says, ‘We don’t spend time together,’ you know her love language is quality time. If she says, ‘Would you give me a back rub?’ it’s physical touch.” “It’s me, Gary,” I admitted. “Sometimes I don’t get my wife.”

He laughed. “We naturally speak our own language,” he said. “If words make me feel loved, I’ll tell my wife how pretty she is and how much I love her. But if her love language is acts of service and I’m not doing anything to help her, it won’t be long before she says, ‘You say you love me, but why don’t you volunteer to help me?’” Gary recommended that I ask Ramona three questions: “How can I make your life easier? What can I do to help you? How can I be a better husband?”

“We have the power of choice,” he said. “You can choose to love or not to love. My wife and I have been through some tough stuff, but doing things God’s way made all the difference.” “Ok Gary, I’ll do the dishes,” I said.

And I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing a lot better ever since. So is our marriage. Colossians 3:14 says, “Put on love.” It’s a choice. We choose to do it whether we feel like it or not. Whether you’re married or not, I think that’s the best free advice I can offer you today. Which reminds me of a sign in the Beijing airport that says, “Take luggage of foreigner. No charge.”

3101, 2016

Turning 500

 

Recently on Laugh Again, we celebrated our 500th radio broadcast. And we have you, our loyal listeners, to thank. Well, at least most of you. I did meet a guy in Ottawa, who shook my hand and said, “You know, I listen to Laugh Again every day. I’ve had an image of you in mind.” Then he paused slightly and said, “I prefer that image.”

But I do want to thank the rest of you. And I thought it would be fun today to recount a few lines that have made listeners laugh out loud, or as they say nowadays, “LOL.” One young guy confided in me that he had just purchased a drive-thru coffee and taken a sip when he heard me say, “You know a man’s best friend is a dog, right? If ever you doubt this, try a little experiment. Lock your wife and your dog in the bathroom for about 20 minutes. When you open the door, see who’s glad to see you.” I am happy to report that the poor guy snorted coffee onto the inside of his windshield. Do they make windshield wipers for the inside of your car? They should.
Many of you have enjoyed my stories of the joys of getting a little older. You particularly enjoyed the line, “I’m getting so old I don’t even know what to wear anymore. I asked my wife, ‘Do I wear boxers or briefs?’ She said, ‘Uh….depends.”

Many have appreciated stories of my fifth grade teacher Miss Weismuller, the one with the bun in her hair too tight to allow her to smile. She’s the one who told me, “There’s a bus leaving in ten minutes. Be under it.” You may remember the time my five-year-old son Steve and I were passing a graveyard and he pointed out the window at a hole in the ground and a pile of dirt beside it, “Look Dad!” he said. “One got out.” That’s our reason for hope today. One got out – Jesus has risen.

Just before I got up to speak somewhere, a lady came over to me, tears in her eyes. She pulled up her sleeve and showed me the scars on her wrist. “Thank you for giving me hope,” she said. “I would not be alive without this program and your books.” God gets every ounce of credit. All I’ve tried to do is cheer people up, and point them to the only reason I know for hope. Jesus loves me. God sent his son into the world, not to condemn us, but to save us, to fill us with life and the hope of eternity with him.

If the message of Laugh Again resonates with you, would you consider becoming a Laugh Again partner? We love your laughs. But we need your prayers, and your support. Bless you, my friend. And go easy on that coffee when you listen.

501, 2016

New Year, New Words

It’s a New Year. That time when dentists celebrate with the slogan, “Out with the old teeth, in with the new.” Here are a few things I need to leave in the past: memories of root canals; pop quizzes; scoring into my own net; and pimples (I ate a jar of Clearasil each week in ninth grade. It didn’t clear those pimples up. They were large enough to use as ski jumps. So I think I’ll smile about it and leave it in the past.) I was the poster boy for short shorts. You’ll be glad to know that they were burned; they’re long gone. But my daughter found some pictures of me in an old photo album and took a sharpie to those pictures. She blacked out the lower half of me. Then she found photos of me when I was young and well-mustached. She said, “Eww, Dad! Look at this. A weasel is latched onto your lip.” I’m glad I left that mustache back in 1989.

Of course, there are things I’ve left behind that I wish I hadn’t. I have left CDs in rental cars, phones on airplanes, and wallets in restaurants. People coming behind me were blessed with free stuff. I can be very generous… sometimes by accident. I wish I could go back to those places and “un-lose” what I lost. But I can’t. And there’s no use dwelling on it. Of far greater significance are people I’ve loved who are gone now. My best buddy Lauren. My parents. I can’t bring them back, but I can thank God for the memories and for the fact that I haven’t really lost them. I know exactly where they are. One day I’ll see them again. A New Year brings new hope. New attitudes. New shorts, maybe. And some of us need some new words. Let’s throw out some old words like, “If only.” Husbands can say goodbye to words like, “always,” “never,” and “fat.” Unless you say, “Honey, it always amazes me how you never look fat.”

Here’s a short list of things I’d like to say more often this year:
• “Am I blessed or what!”
• “Worry about tomorrow? What good will it do?”
• “Forgive you? Absolutely. I’ve been forgiven so much.”
• “I guess God cares after all.”
• “My friend, I am sockless. You’ve blessed them off.”
• “Life could be a whole lot worse.”
• “Would I like a little ice cream? No. I’d like a lot.”
• And finally, “Thank you God for another day.”

Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Every single day this year, let’s celebrate God’s amazing grace to us. And let’s pass it on. Now, I think I’ll throw out that old jar of Clearasil and this container of mustache wax.

2012, 2015

A Crammed Christmas

Have you heard the one about the Irishman who got stuck in a McDonald’s baby chair? Actually it’s no joke. It happened. Police responded to assist the poor guy. Seems his backside was a little larger than the recommended size on the chair’s warning label. Some people like small spaces. I don’t. So when I heard that 20 cheerleaders dropped their pompoms and stretched, contorted and wedged themselves into a Smart car, I’m not sure if I should laugh or wince. They set a record. Sadly they were unable to get out of the car, but what a way to go. I’m kidding. They were fine.

My favourite account of “human Tetris” came out of North Korea in December, 1950. The Korean War had just broken out. Thousands flocked to the Hungnam docks, hoping that an Allied ship would whisk them off to safety. But the only ship available was a small cargo freighter, the SS Meredith Victory, captained by Leonard LaRue. The ship was designed to hold 59 people, but LaRue ordered 14,000 North Korean refugees to squeeze aboard. The refugees were packed so tightly they couldn’t even sit down. Yet as gunfire from enemy ships destroyed the port, the Meredith Victory set out for Pusan, 450 sea miles away. It was freezing, and there was little water or food. The first mate had only first aid training, but he delivered five babies during the voyage. And after two gruelling days at sea, the 14,005 refugees finally reached safe haven on Geoje Island on Christmas Day without a single injury. Years later, LaRue said, “I think often of that voyage. And the clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmas tide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God’s own hand was at the helm of my ship.”

Reminds me of another Christmas miracle. 2,000 years ago God managed to squeeze himself into a tiny human frame. I’m glad God isn’t as claustrophobic as I am. 1 Kings 8 says that even the heavens cannot contain God. And yet, Philippians 2 says, “Though he was God…he gave up his divine privileges…and was born as a human being.” On that first Christmas, God found a way to get every drop of his divinity into a tiny baby. Why? Because he loved us. Because he came to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. God knows our brokenness and pain. He came on a rescue mission, to die that we might live. If you need to be rescued, simply reach out and accept His grace today. Don’t worry, there’s lots of room on the boat. If you’d like to know more, give us a call at 1-800-663-2425. From all of us at Laugh Again, have a very merry Christmas.

1312, 2015

Another Fantastic Christmas Quiz

Phil_Blog_Dec14

It’s the most wonderful time of year. And it’s time for our annual Christmas quiz. Gather the family, munch on some Christmas cookies and keep track of your score. Are you ready?

1) In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, what made the Grinch so cranky?
a) His mother-in-law visited each Christmas Eve
b) His shorts were two sizes too tight
c) His heart was two sizes too small

And the answer is c)! His heart was two sizes too small. Do you get it? If not, start over.

Let’s pitter patter off to question two.

2) What is the shape of the candy cane modelled after?
a) A hockey stick
b) A shepherd’s crook
c) A fish hook

The answer is b), a shepherd’s crook. If you picked hockey, take two minutes in the penalty box for being tripped, then skate on to question three.

3) What was the first instrument on which “Silent Night” was played?
a) The accordion
b) The guitar
c) The kazoo
d) The pipe organ

And the answer is b). “Silent Night” was first played on the guitar. By the way, my Sunday school teacher played the accordion and carried a beeper. That was optimistic of him, don’t you think?

5) Which is the only book to mention the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus?
a) Matthew
b) Mark
c) Luke
d) Larry

The answer is a), Matthew. Matthew tells us very little about the wise men. We don’t know their names, how many there were, or if they arrived on Camels or Camaros. If you chose d), the book of Larry, go and dunk your head in a snow drift.

Well, it’s time to tally your score. If you know that Christmas Island is in the Indian Ocean or that there was no question number five in this quiz, collect two bonus points. If your score was 1 or 2, good try. Take an aspirin and try this quiz again in the morning. If you scored 3-4. Not bad. Your potential is showing. If you scored 5. Masterful! Brilliant! Genius! Send us a note and we’ll place your name in a draw for a free fruitcake.

Aren’t you glad there won’t be a test like this when you reach heaven? We’ll be celebrating the child of the manger. Jesus Christ. God with us. And if you have any tales of Christmas, place them in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you.

1112, 2015

No Longer Broke

Dec Are you broke? If your tires are balder than your great granddad, and you’re reusing coffee grounds, you are broke. If you find yourself googling “recipes for roadkill,” and make regular trips to pawn shops to visit your stuff, you, my friend, are broke. I grew up below what our government calls the poverty line, so I know a little about this. Someone gave my mother a recipe for budget breath mints. It’s ideal if you’re short on cash and hosting a dinner party. Here it is: Take one tube of toothpaste, preferably mint flavored. Place in freezer for 4 hours. Cut open and slice contents into wafer-thin pieces. Serve chilled. Satisfies up to 44 guests and gives them something to talk about.

Natasha can relate to being broke. She worked at a Domino’s Pizza in Pickering, Ohio. One Sunday, she was asked to deliver a pizza to a local church. When Natasha arrived with the $5.99 pizza, she was summoned up to the stage by the pastor, Steve Markle. She walked nervously onto the platform. “What’s the biggest tip you’ve ever received?” Steve asked Natasha. “Ten dollars,” she replied. Steve said to her, “Natasha, we’ve been teaching our church this last month about being generous, and so we did something special for you today. We took a special offering for a tip for you.” And that’s when the Reverend handed over a bulging wad of cash. “This is $1,046 to be exact,” he said with a grin, “and I hope this can help you. Natasha broke down in tears. “Thank you so much—thank you everybody.”

Pastor Steve was wrapping up a sermon series called “I was Broke. Now I’m Not,” about the riches we have in Christ. Each Christmas season we celebrate the fact that God went “broke” for us. He owned every last atom in the universe. Yet he stepped down from his throne in heaven and was born as the most helpless one among us. Born in a barn, into a poor family. Why would he do this?

The Apostle Paul gives the answer in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” Jesus was born that very first Christmas, so that you could be truly rich. Not in breath mints, or money or stuff, but in things we can’t cram in our coffins, in things that last forever. Jesus experienced our poverty, our hunger, our pain, and He died in our place, as our substitute.

Next time you order a pizza and follow it up with a breath mint, I hope you’ll remember God’s grace, and pass it along.

2911, 2015

The Right Fish

Phil_Blog_Nov30

My son has been single for 29 years. Since flying from our nest, he has kept a fairly clean house, done his laundry, and become adept at cooking. Although he does show up at our house often just to gaze into the fridge and drool. But a grown man can only eat so much of his mother’s lasagna before she sends him to pasture.

So he considered marriage. Surveying the field, fishing the pond.
“What do you look for in a wife?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “why not put a classified ad in the newspaper. I did years ago. It said, ‘Wanted: good woman with tractor. Please send picture of tractor.’”

Steve laughed, and showed a list of some things he’d like in a wife. “Must love Jesus, strong character, compassionate, crazy about me, athletic, musical, confident…” The list went on awhile. You could never fault the boy for setting his sights too low. And off he went with his tackle box and fishing pole.

There were days he’d walk through our door with a grin to tell me about a girl he met. And I remember the tears when relationships fell apart. “Maybe I set my sights too high,” he admitted one day. “Maybe love is about compromise. What if that girl on my list is a mythical creature?” Mostly we prayed for him, as we’d done almost every day since he was born.

And then, suddenly, he hung up his fishing pole. He stopped chasing girls and started chasing Jesus. And something happened. There was a remarkable change. He loved telling others what Jesus had done in his life. Random people. In malls. On park benches. And there was contentment in his eyes.

Then one May day in 2015, he saw her. Sitting behind him at a conference, worshipping Jesus. Little did he know that a mutual friend would set them up, that two weeks later they’d be sitting in a restaurant, and that Dallas would cause him to throw out his list. “She’s all those things and more,” he told me. “She doesn’t own a tractor, but I can overlook that.”

And on July 31st, he dropped to one knee on a mountain peak after a stunning sunset. “Dallas, will you marry me?” She said, and I quote, “HECK YES!”
Steve will tell you it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. “Be patient,” he’ll say, “and don’t compromise. Seek Jesus first, and don’t stop praying. God hasn’t forgotten you.” One of his favourite Bible verses is Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Whatever you face today, would you trust Him?

Meanwhile, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a wedding to prepare for. My son has put on a suit, and is about to step away from our fridge. His mother and I couldn’t be happier. Imagine all the money we’ll save on groceries.

2710, 2015

The Candy Thief

When our kids were small, we’d dress up our kids in cute little costumes each Halloween, and let them loose in our tiny little town. They’d return with full bags and big grins. If you’re a parent, you know your kids are wired differently. This was never quite so evident as during those weeks following October 31st. Our son Jeff would devour his entire bag of candy before he went to bed if we didn’t stop him, and awake the next morning holding his stomach and groaning. Stephen, on the other hand, was a hoarder. Each evening he’d spill the contents of his bag onto his bunk bed. He’d line up the Twizzlers, the gobstoppers, the caramels, and the rockets, and take inventory. Then he’d eat one or two, place them back in the bag, and hang them from his bedpost. In this way, he could make his stash last until the next October.

After about a week, poor little Jeffrey had finished off his own bag of goodies. He’d climb into his bottom bunk each night below his brother, with Stephen’s bag of candies dangling inches from his nose. And then one day, Jeffrey snapped. The next evening the inventory was way off. He marched to the living room where five-year-old Jeffrey was playing with Lego. “Jeffy!” he squealed. “You ate my candy!” Jeff’s eyes opened wide in terror. The left-overs of one of Steve’s gumballs was still on Jeff’s chin. “Rachael did it,” said Jeff, pointing at his sister. “Liar,” Stephen screamed, and lunged for Jeff’s throat.

Years have passed. Not long ago Jeff and Steve and I got laughing about this story, but Steve admitted that forgiveness didn’t come easy for him after that. His list of the unforgiven grew longer over time. “They didn’t steal my candy, but I allowed them to steal my joy. It just isn’t worth it. But when you understand how much you have been forgiven it’s hard to hold on to those old grudges.”

Maybe you need to let go of a grudge or two today. If so, here are a few steps that have helped me. Step 1: remember that God has forgiven you completely. Ephesians 1:7 says that in Jesus “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Step 2: Remember you are loved outrageously by the one who created you. Step 3: Choose to forgive. It’s a choice we must make. Pray a simple prayer. “God, I repent for holding a grudge, I choose to forgive him, and I ask that you would fill my heart with love for him.”

It’s an amazing thing to see this love grow in the hearts of your kids. Steve is getting married and guess who his best man will be? That’s right. The candy thief.

2710, 2015

We’ve Got Mail

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We get all sorts of interesting letters in response to the Laugh Again Program. This is from a 7-year-old in Honolulu who asks her dad every day if she can hear from Mr. Phil. “You are really funny,” she says. “Who are you?” Well, I’m just a Canadian guy who would love to visit Honolulu in January. This question is from Laura in Manitoba, Canada: “I heard you talk about fear. I am afraid of sharks and crocodiles. Should I be?” Well Laura, if you just stay in Manitoba, you don’t have a thing to worry about. The truth is, more people die from jellyfish bites than shark bites. In fact, sharks killed just three people last year. And none of the attacks happened in Manitoba.

Here’s another question. It comes from Jason somewhere in Idaho: “I love to laugh. Why do we laugh? Does anyone know?” Well, scientists who study this say that you laugh 30 times as much when you’re with others, so they believe that laughing evolved to promote social group activity. I believe God made us to laugh because he knew we would need to and he loves us that much. We love receiving mail. The truth is, many of our listeners are asking much bigger questions about life and pain. One wrote to tell me of her fear of losing a child. Our friends Nelson and Linda faced that fear head on. They said goodbye to their son Stephen a month ago, one day before his 30th birthday. A few days ago, his mom wrote these words to me: “God is so good and all His ways are good, yes even in this! We are seeing God’s sweetness in all the details concerning our son’s sudden death. God is taking me through my deepest fear—the sudden, violent death of my child, but He is walking with me through it. He did not leave me to go it alone and is exchanging my fear for acceptance, peace and even joy!” What an amazing family!

None of us knows what lies ahead, but we have a God who is for us and with us and in us, so there’s no need to fear. He will give enough light for the next step. I’ll close with the best advice I could possibly offer. It’s Eugene Peterson’s take on Philippians 4 in the Message. “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.” Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear from you.

1310, 2015

Second Chances

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Do movies make you laugh? When our kids were small, we had a tradition. We would spread a big blanket on the floor, put popcorn onto it, make some pizza, and munch away as we watched a family friendly film. One of my favourite movie laughs comes in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. The ridiculous Inspector Clousseau walks into a hotel lobby, looks down and sees a tiny dog. “Does your dog bite?” he asks the Innkeeper. “No,” the man responds. Clousseau reaches down and the dog almost bites his hand off. “I thought you said your dog did not bite.” The Innkeeper replies, “That’s not my dog.”

We loved laughing at old Disney movies. The Love Bug, The Million Dollar Duck, and The World’s Greatest Athlete, where somebody always seemed to be getting zapped by lightning and discovering some odd super power. The leading man in these films, the one who made us howl with laughter, grew up in a Christian home but rejected his family’s faith. He went from DJ to singer to soldier to Hollywood star. He told an interviewer, “It was a fast track life. I was making $50,000 a week. I had the Ferrari and beautiful women and all the rest of what I thought would satisfy my life. And it was empty. Really empty.” After a nearly fatal accident, Jones cried out to God. The Washington Post quoted him as saying, “The night that I said ‘yes’ to the Lord, [my life] changed instantly. The peace of Christ rolled over me like an ocean wave and I’ve never been the same.” His empty life had been filled with peace, purpose, and hope.

One of the old VHS movies I have is Born Again, the film version of Chuck Colson’s bestseller. Dean Jones played the role of Colson who was known as President Nixon’s hit man and called, among other things, the evil genius of an evil administration. Colson went to prison as one of the chief collaborators in the Watergate Scandal, but came to faith in Christ as he was facing arrest and a prison sentence. Jones later told the Post, “If God can forgive me and Chuck, he can forgive anyone.” Wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve done, the gospel of Jesus Christ offers each one of us a brand new start. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Just last month, Dean Jones went to be with Jesus. He was 84. I kind of like the thought that a guy who made our family laugh so much on those Saturday nights found peace on earth, and better yet, after experiencing such emptiness from stuff the world offers, he is now in a place where there is fullness of joy.

410, 2015

Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Son

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A couple told me the other day that something I wrote has been hanging on their fridge for years. Here it is: “Eight Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Son.”

Back when I was a teen, boys chased the girls.

But around about March of 1988, girls began chasing boys. They became aggressive. Like hungry lionesses preying on limping antelopes. They whistle. They yell out of car windows. They call them on the phone.

One of them called the other day. I answered the phone.

A sweet voice said, “Is Jeffery there?”

I replied, “Is this Britney or Chelsey or Olivia? There are so many of you, I get you all mixed up.”

Since my sons are both receiving calls from lovely girls, I have come up with a short list to offer them much needed advice and increase their chances of someday dating one of my sons.

Rule One: If you would like to talk with my son, please do this in the church foyer after the fellowship hour when the lights are on.

Rule Two: My son is sixteen. The following locations and activities are acceptable for your date…

Rule Three: If you would like to hang out with my son, you will have to put up with me. I am out on a weekend pass and I am unsure of what I will say next.

Rule Four: If you would like to contact my son, you may send an email to phil@mysonisnothome.com. If you prefer calling or texting, please remember that your call could be monitored by our customer service department.

Rule Five: My son cannot use my minivan to drive you to a mall. The van is already booked that year.

Rule Six: Please do not touch my son. Do not lean against him unless you are falling over or plunging off a cliff.

Rule Seven: I am aware that it is considered fashionable for girls your age to wear Lady Gaga t-shirts that do not reach their low-slung pants or necklines that plunge lower than the Canadian dollar. You are free to show up in such attire. But be advised, my wife will affix it properly to your body with a glue gun.

Rule Eight: Above all else, please remember that we’ve been praying for this boy since before God gave him breath, and we will continue to. When he chooses a girl, we will be happier than Mr. and Mrs. Turtle when they finally exited Noah’s Ark. But until then we’ll keep praying that both of you will pursue Jesus first, and watch everything else fall into place.

P.S. If you are a teenage girl who has read this and still has a smile on your face, go ahead and call. Our number is 1-800-321. If you somehow get through, just remember that your call may be monitored by our Customer Service Department.

2909, 2015

Crazy Laws

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Today on Laugh Again, we present our first episode of We Kid You Not. Wherein we will tell you things you can’t believe, but they are possibly true. Are you ready? Here are some crazy laws from actual places. We think some of them may be exaggerated, but here’s what we’re told:

• In Samoa, it’s a crime to forget your wife’s birthday (I don’t think it was a man who passed that law.)
• In England, it is illegal to die in the House Of Parliament. (Just don’t do it. If you’re gonna die, please leave the building.)
• In Mohave county, Arizona, a decree declares that anyone caught stealing soap must wash himself with it until it is all used up. (That’s a great idea. What if you stole chocolate? Would they make you eat all of it?)
• In Finland, taxi drivers must pay royalties if they play music in their cars for paying customers.
• In Alaska it is considered an offense to push a live moose out of a moving airplane. (I should say so.)
• In Connecticut, for a pickle to officially be considered a pickle, it must bounce.

All these rules remind me a bit of a group called the Pharisees.

They took the basic laws God gave and turned things into a competition. For example, one of the 10 Commandments was, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” The Pharisees literally made hundreds of rules that detailed what that meant. One rule said you couldn’t walk through a field on the Sabbath because your sandal might clip a grain of wheat, and if it did you would be harvesting grain. That was work on the Sabbath; that was sin. You couldn’t spit on the ground on the Sabbath either because your spit would create mud and this was making mortar. Shame on you. Many of the Pharisees believed that following these rules guaranteed their righteousness. But Ephesians 2 tells us that, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” If you’re trying to live a righteous life by working harder at it, you can stop. It isn’t gonna work. But when you put your faith in Jesus you get righteousness as a free gift, God cleanses you of your sin and gives you a brand new heart with new desires. I hope that has you smiling.

Which is a good thing if you live in Milan, Italy. You see, it is a legal requirement there to smile at all times, with the exception of funerals and hospital visits. (We kid you not!)

2209, 2015

Face for Radio

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When I was a teenager, a friend of mine painted my portrait for a University art assignment. But when he submitted the painting, he received a ‘C minus.’ Obviously my friend was upset. After class, he asked his instructor why the grade was so poor. “The proportions in the painting are incorrect,” he was told. “The head is too big. The shoulders are too narrow. The ears are enormous.” The next day, my friend brought me to see his art instructor. The professor took one look at me and said, “Okay, ‘A minus.’”

Ok, this never happened to me, but there were plenty of other events in my teenage life that threatened to steal my sense of humour. There was the Great Pimple Invasion of 1977. The Girlfriend Dumping Me Epidemic of 1978. And let’s not even talk about the time I dropped barbells on my nose. As I grew older, the trials loomed larger. Joy suckers came knocking and I found myself inviting them in for grouse dinner and some prune juice. Looking back, I’m not sure that a single phrase helped me through the tough times more than the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
That’s the purpose of Laugh Again. To bring good cheer, and remind us that God has overcome. And the responses to this program indicate that God is using it to bring joy to countless lives. Here are just a few:

“Laugh Again is fantastic to have on the radio. It is so nice to have a ministry that encourages us to express our joy. Why not be joyful, we have Jesus as our Saviour!”
“I recently lost my son and my grandson. Thank you for helping me focus on our real reason for joy.”
“You have no idea what Laugh Again means to me. I am a young believer in Christ. I first listened because of the laughter. I am now growing in my faith and am so hungry for the truth you teach.”

In the Bible, the story of Jesus is called “good news of great joy.” (Luke 2:10) If that joy is missing today, would you reflect on just how good the good news is? Here it is in a single sentence from the best known Bible verse in history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” I can’t say those words without a grin crawling across my face.

Whatever life throws your way today, remember the foundation of our joy. And if someone paints your portrait and receives a ‘C minus,’ I hope you laugh. And tell him that maybe you have a face for radio, just like me.

1509, 2015

The Good Thing About Waiting

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Have you heard of patience? It’s that quality you admire in the driver behind you, but can’t stand in the driver in front of you. Back when they used to throw rice at weddings, a young guy dated a girl for years. She dreamed of the day he would say “I do.” She showed him engagement rings. Each time he got down to tie his shoe, she said, “Yes! I can’t believe you asked.” But he was oblivious.

One night he took her out to a Chinese restaurant, looked over the menu, and casually asked her, “So… how do you want your rice? Plain or fried?”

She said, “I prefer it thrown.”

Maybe you feel like that woman. Maybe your patience is wearing thin. Our culture doesn’t exactly teach the fine art of patience. We live in a fast food, fast fact, fast track world. I’d love some patience. Right now. Don’t have money to buy a new convertible? Who cares? It can be yours today for just $639 dollars per month for the next 3000 years. Why wait. Have it now.

And then we’re forced to wait. For that job, that special someone, that house to sell, that mechanic to hurry up, that grown child to smarten up. And we wonder, how can anything good come from this?

I’ve been impatient lately. Things need to change in a certain area, and it’s not up to me. I find that hard. Maybe you’d say, yup Phil, that’s my situation. My husband has been a jerk for 27 years. What if he never changes?”

Well, I’m not sure. But I do think we both need to remember three things. First, to pray like crazy. If you see a GAP hat today remember what it stands for: God Answers Prayer. Second, to trust that God knows what he’s up to even when we don’t. And third, to celebrate that we’re in good company. Moses waited in exile, Abraham waited for a son, Joseph waited in prison, the Israelites waited in the wilderness. And here’s the deal, anyone who has significantly impacted their world has spent significant time in the dark wondering what in the world God is up to and why is it taking so long.

If that’s you, don’t give up. God promises in Isaiah 40 that, “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” You and I are learning lasting lessons we won’t learn otherwise. So let’s wait with anticipation, thanksgiving, and the joy of knowing that God’s presence is the greatest present we could ever unwrap. Even if you’re still single, and you’re sick and tired of fried rice.

609, 2015

Five Things Not to say to an Author

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What do you say when people ask what you do? Maybe it’s easy. For example: “I’m an accountant. I solve problems you didn’t know you had in ways you don’t understand.” Or if you’re a mom, maybe you say something like, “I’m a mom. Every day I resist the urge to eliminate my hair follicles while cultivating three bipeds into reasonably responsible citizens capable of administering luminescence on our cimmerian (si-MEER-ian) sphere.” Memorize that line. Try it out on people. I always wince a little when someone asks what I do. Partly because I’m not entirely certain myself what I do. So I tell them I’m a writer. Often what comes next is a sentence I don’t want to hear. In fact, here are five sentences I’ve heard in response to my occupation. Five things you should never say to an author. Ready?

1. “Cool! But what do you do for a living?”
2. “I have a great idea for a book. You write it, we’ll split the profits.”
3. “I would, like totally, like write a book if I had as much free time as you.” In my defense, writing books is as close as a man will ever come to giving birth. Ask my wife. She will say that when I write I’m moody, cranky, and I snack at odd hours.
4. “I found your book in a yard sale for a quarter. You autographed it to the guy who sold it to me.”
5. And finally, “When I retire I’m gonna write books.” That’s when I say, “When I retire I’m going to perform heart surgery.”

Well, whatever you do, do it well. And be careful that your sense of worth doesn’t come from what you do. A great way to keep on the pathway to joy is to ask, “What do I base my value and identity on?” That, my friend, is the thing we worship. When our value is based on who we are rather than whose we are, we get sidetracked. When we live for career and we’re laid off, or we live for our kids and they disappoint, we feel worthless and devastated.

But if we live for Jesus and we fail Him, He forgives us and accepts us by God’s grace. Remember that today. And the next time someone asks what you do, say, “I am trying to master the fine art of parallel parking.” Or try this: “I’m an electrician. I wire for money.”

3008, 2015

The Teenagers Are Coming

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When we became parents, we noticed that the chief goal of many parents who are older is to tell you how horrible the next stage of parenting will be. This is especially true as your kids enter the teen years.

“You just wait,” they say. “Your kids will be teens. We’ll have to talk you down off a ledge.”

But, in fact, the opposite was true. We loved those years. Oh sure, they were challenging. But a life without challenge is a life without…well, without teenagers.

From the day they are born, children have one thing in mind: becoming teenagers and taking over the planet. They want us grown-ups to get out of the way. They make fun of our hairstyle (if we are lucky enough to have one), spend our money, crash our cars, and eat our lunch. They even stop laughing at our jokes.

Here are a few things I am waiting to hear my teenagers say. Take a deep breath and grab your heart medication. Any two of these statements could give a parent heart failure:

• Dad, I sure could use a little advice.
• We won’t need the car—we’re walking.
• There’s nothing to eat around here. I’ll go buy something.
• We don’t do anything as a family anymore.
• You relax. I’ll do the dishes.
• Hey, I’ve been on the phone a lot. Why don’t I pay the phone bill this month?
• Is my music bothering you?
• This is my room, but it’s your house.
• Well, lookie there! It’s ten p.m.! I’d better go to bed!

If you’re the parent of a teenager, God bless your cotton socks, my friend. These can be invigorating years. But here’s something you need to tell yourself each and every day: Apart from selling mittens to South Africans, parenting teenagers is the world’s toughest job, so I will go easy on myself. I will not compare myself with other parents who sit around looking happy and well organized. Chances are, they are heavily medicated anyway. Yes, they may be hours from being institutionalized.

I love Paul’s words of encouragement to the believers in Galatians 6:9. I think many of them had teenagers. He said, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” So hang in there. And whatever you do, don’t forget to laugh.

Someone mailed me a plaque one day. It said: “Teenagers! Tired of being harassed by your parents? Act now. Move out. Get a job and pay your own bills while you still know everything.”

I hung it up in my study. It went missing the very next day.

2408, 2015

The Good Thing About Worry

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A lady walked into the doctor’s office. “Doc,” she said, “I’m worried. I have a pain in my eye whenever I drink tea.” The doctor said, “Then take the spoon out of the cup before you drink.” As a kid, I worried a lot. I worried about the bully on the playground, the broccoli on my plate, and the pit bull attached to my pant leg. When I grew older I worried about acne. I worried about being skinny. I worried about girls. I started dating and worried about getting dumped. I got married and worried that my wife would leave me for the weekend, and I would starve of malnutrition. I worried about not having kids. When we had three in three years I worried about having too many kids. I even worried about being worried so much. Can you relate?

If so, take a deep breath and think of this. Even worry can be turned into a good thing with God’s help. What? How? Well, I’m slowly learning that worry is a bit like a runny nose. It’s a good indication that something worse is wrong. Worry always points to something deeper, something that there’s a solution for. If the smoke alarm goes off at our house, everyone knows that Dad’s in the kitchen. Worry is like a smoke alarm. It’s a raucous reminder to turn off the burners, take every thought captive, and fill our mind with thoughts of the one we trust. Because at the root of all worry is a sense of panic that the God who created the universe is too small or too unconcerned to fulfill his promises. That he was kidding when he said he’d never leave us or forsake us. It’s belief in a God who is too small.

So try a little exercise. Try to remember what you worried about six months ago today. I tried. I can’t remember. Some hard things have happened in those six months, but God was faithful. So I must not spend my life under the shadow of an event that hasn’t yet happened and likely never will. Worry is the bad thing that can wake us up to the good thing of God’s constant care for us. “Look at the birds of the air:” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” God loves us more than we’ll ever know. Let’s place our fickle and faltering trust him today. As for me, I plan to stop worrying about pit bulls like I did as a child.

That reminds me of the lady who told her doctor, “A pit bull bit my finger.” “Which one?” asked the doctor. “I don’t know,” she replied, “pit bulls all look the same to me.”

1708, 2015

When the world is busted

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Do you like cartoons? Right now I have a few taped to the bottom of my computer monitor. One cartoon has two windows with signs over each window. Over the first it says “complaints.” The line at the complaint window stretches out of sight. People look like they’ve been locked in a pickle jar for a week. Above the other window it says, “Gratitude.” As you might suspect, there is no one in line at all.

Beside this cartoon, I taped a piece of paper with four words in a large font: “In everything give thanks.” In my haste, I misspelled thanks, so it says, “In everything give tanks.” But you get the idea. Now a sign that reminds us to be thankful is a dangerous thing to have hanging near you, because if you hang it up you really should obey it. But you see, the world is busted. Horrible things happen to good people. And still those words hang there. Last week one of the brightest lights in our community was taken from us in a bike accident. The next day our friends Chuck and Carol lost their son Alex. He was on a mission trip overseas and he collapsed. His sister Alli was the girl our son wanted to marry when he was four. “When I gwow up,” he’d say, “I’m gonna mawwy Awwi.” Alli held Alex’s hand as he passed away. He was 22. Next we received news that our friend Judy has stage four breast cancer. The same Judy who lost her only child in a car crash. “In everything give thanks?” How do you give thanks when there’s a gaping wound in your soul?

In the 153rd episode of Seinfeld, an ancient word was made popular. It’s “Yadah.” On the show it’s used as a conversation gloss over, like “blah blah blah.” Yadah yadah yadah. But Yadah is actually a Hebrew word, a Bible word. It means, among other things, to wring our hands in mourning, to worship with our hands outstretched; and get this, it’s most commonly used to mean holding out our hands in praise to God, in giving thanks.

When my wife was on death’s doorstep I clenched my fist so many times and shook it at the sky. In time I found peace in doing the opposite, in stretching out those hands, in giving thanks. The psalmist wrote, “It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord.” To hold out our hand and take the hand of the only one who can give strength to turn whatever it is we’re going through into thanksgiving. In a world catastrophes, we will remember Yadah. We will defiantly confess that God is good, that His mercies endure forever. We will stand alone at the gratitude window and give thanks.

1008, 2015

A Reason to Laugh

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Christians are known for some great things. Like Christmas and Easter. We’ve built orphanages, hospitals, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and founded many of the great universities.

But sometimes friends have told me that they know far too many grumpy Christians, and I’m left shaking my head. Grumpy Christians? Shouldn’t this be the ultimate oxymoron? Like airline food, jumbo shrimp, or Microsoft Works. Of all people on the face of the earth, Christians have the greatest reason for joy. But some of us show up on Sunday morning with our faces so puckered that we could suck buttons off a sofa. Oswald Chambers, the author of the bestselling devotional of all time, My Utmost for His Highest, was often criticized for his sense of humour. After meeting Oswald for the first time, a rather serious young man said, “I was shocked at what I then considered his undue levity. He was the most irreverent Reverend I had ever met!” While visiting a family in London, Oswald stayed home with two children so their parents could attend a Sunday evening service. The couple was confident to leave the kids in the care of this great saint. Upon arriving home that night, they asked, “Did Reverend Chambers teach you a nice song or Bible verse?” “Oh, yes,” said the children. “We’ll say it:

‘Little Willie in best of sashes
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes,
Later on the room grew chilly,
But no one cared to poke poor Willie.’”

Oswald’s laugh could be heard echoing down the hall.

Billy Sunday once said, “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” I couldn’t agree more. I believe in a holy and awesome God. The one who alone is worthy of my adoration and praise. But I also believe in a God who created the wiener dog, the duck-billed platypus, and Mr. Bean. I find it hard to read a Bible passage like Romans 8:1-2 without smiling: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

Wow. Freedom? NO condemnation? Have you cracked a grin yet? If you’re a Christian, you have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to. Including a place called heaven, where Jesus himself will wipe away all your tears and straighten your question marks into exclamation points. If that doesn’t make you smile, my friend, I quit. Now, go have yourself a fantastic day.

208, 2015

World Records

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When you leave this world, how will you be remembered?

Maybe people will remember that you set a world record. Like Fin Keheler, who stuck 43 snails to his face for 10 seconds. Surpassing the previous record of 36. The poor guy is still cleaning slime out of his ears.
My kids have made fun of me for the size of my schnoz, but Mehmet Ozyurek of Turkey possesses an even larger nose than I. His snout is a record breaking 3.5 inches long (about 9 cm). That, my friends, is a trunk.
And if, like me, you’ve been wondering for years who holds the world’s fastest time running the 100-meter hurdles while wearing swimming flippers, your wait is over. Veronica Torr galloped down the racetrack in her swim fins, setting a world record of 19.28 seconds. Well done, Veronica.

Our final world record holder is Linda Taylor of Indiana. Linda has been married more times than any other woman in the world. She has walked the aisle 23 times. Over the years she married barmen, plumbers and musicians. She even married a one-eyed ex-con, and a preacher. One of her ex’s put a padlock on her fridge. Her shortest marriage lasted 36 hours. She married one man three separate times. Her last marriage, in 1996, was a publicity stunt. The groom was Glynn Wolfe, who in taking Linda as his bride, became the most married man on earth – a total of 29 times. He died a year later, when a bookcase bearing wedding photo albums fell on him.

No, I’m kidding about the wedding albums. But he did pass away at 88. It happens to a lot of people. So before it does, we’re wise to ask, “What will I be remembered for?” How can we reach the end of life without major regrets?
I can’t help but think of my father. He didn’t leave much money, but he left a priceless legacy of joy. How? Dad realized early in his marriage that the Bible consistently commands us to love. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, continue to show deep love for each other.” Such love has a way of outlasting us and breathing life into the next generation. And so I’d rather leave behind a handful of grandkids who know they are loved than three dozen bestselling books. I’d take the respect of my wife over a world record any day.

How about you? One of the secrets to lasting joy is considering what we’ll leave behind. And if you’re working toward a world record, well, I’m told there’s an opening for running the hurdles in swim fins, with snails stuck to your nose.

2607, 2015

Four Questions For Anyone Who’s Aging

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Are you aging? Be honest. Nothing prepared me for getting older. For one thing, I thought my school teachers would kill me. But somehow I’m still here, waking up each morning gazing into the mirror at a middle-aged balding guy who looks like my dad.

Whatever age you are, here’s a quiz for you:

When I stand in front of the mirror, I:
a) Thank God for His awesome handiwork
b) Close my eyes and grind my teeth
c) Can see my rear end without turning around

I believe we could solve this global warming thing:
a) If all of us would just drive Smart Cars with seating capacity for three people who, combined, weigh as much as a rice crispy square
b) If my kids would just keep the fridge door closed
c) If we could find a way to harness my hot flashes

After a visit to the doctor I:
a) See the benefits of eating well and rising at six each day for my nine-mile jog
b) Comfort myself knowing that my memory is going, but I can still retain water
c) Consider acupuncture. I mean, when was the last time you saw a sick
porcupine?

The following best describes my view of aging:
a) Thanks to anti-aging books and natural herbs, I will be in peak physical
condition well past a hundred
b) I don’t plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to “have facelifts until my ears join together.”
c) Except for the occasional heart attack, I feel as young as ever

In all seriousness, here are four questions to ask yourself when it comes to aging:

1. As I age, is my mind centered more, or less, on the stuff of this earth?

2. Would people say that I am becoming a person whose life is marked by grace?

3. Does prayer play a smaller or larger role in my life than it did ten years ago?

4. Who is one older person I admire? And what can I do to be more like them?

The Mid-Lifer’s Motto is on my mirror: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

1907, 2015

How to Raise the Village “Doofus”

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A father was trying to teach his young son the dangers of drinking. So he filled a glass with whiskey, another with water, and dropped an earthworm in each glass. The worm in the water lived. The whiskey worm curled up and died.
“What does that show you, son?” “Well Dad,” he said, “it shows me that if you drink alcohol, you won’t have worms.” Ah, kids! If you’d like a little advice on child rearing you’ve tuned into the wrong station, because I’m about to give you some horrible advice. An old African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. But I think it takes five steps to raise the village “doofus.”

Here they are:

1. Make your home a miserable place to be. Don’t celebrate good times. Avoid laughter at all costs. Make sure your face looks like you sleep in a pickle jar.
2. Spoon-feed them religion. Tell them answers, but don’t ask questions. Snap at them whenever they step out of line.
3. Gossip without ceasing. Roast the preacher. Stew your boss. Talk about other people’s problems, don’t admit to any of your own.
4. Show your kids that they are less important than your work, your car, and your golf game. That church attendance is less important than sports.
5. Avoid reading the Bible and praying together. Turn them loose without a road map, road signs, guardrails, a centre line, then be amazed when they crash.

You won’t have to look far to find bad examples of parenting. That’s why those who get it right stand out.

Rick van Beek’s daughter Maddy has cerebral palsy. She’s unable to walk or talk. But Rick’s desire to give Maddy a rich and exciting life inspired him to quit smoking and get in shape. Today, Rick competes in marathons and triathlons as “Team Maddy.” He pulls Maddy in a kayak when he swims, in a cart when he cycles, and pushes her along in a buggy when he runs. Rick says: “Call it inspiration, call it motivation…I call it LOVE…she is my heart and I am her legs. Though someday she might not physically be able to be there with me, she will always be in my heart, quietly cheering me on.” Way to go Rick.

Regardless of the home we come from, we have a perfect heavenly father who loves us. In fact, 1 John 4:19 tells us that, “We love because He first loved us.” He’ll give us the ability to make our homes places of laughter and hope, places where God is honoured and kids are loved. So laugh a little today, would you? Praise a preacher, turn off a TV, take a child for a walk. Make sure it’s your child. You may even want to take them fishing. If so, make sure you find yourself a live worm.

1307, 2015

The Floating Buffet

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Have you ever been pampered?

I was forced to go on a cruise not long ago. It was a work vacation really, or that’s what I kept telling my wife. I spoke five times during the week. But when I wasn’t speaking, I was eating. Keep in mind that I grew up below what the government calls the poverty line. Vacations of my childhood were extravagant if we had a ride in a rubber dingy. And here I was on a floating buffet.

Picture an endless conveyor belt of calories. Want ice cream? Grab a cone. Step up to the nozzle. How about pizza? Grab a plate, they’ll stack it to the ceiling. 24-hour room service. Sleep in until 10, wake up to a plate of cheese and fruit and yogurt and mounds of pancakes dipped in chocolate sauce. Each evening you sit in a fancy dining room, looking over a menu containing items like lobster tail, crème brulee, prime rib, escargot (which tastes a lot like snails), and triple-heart-attack cherry chocolate cheesecake. May I have 13 desserts? Yes. For you, anything señor.

If you’re wondering how much food they pack onto these ships each week, the massive cruise ship Allure of the Seas packs along 15,000 pounds of beef, 16,000 pounds of chicken, 86,000 fresh eggs, 62,000 pounds of fresh veggies, over 2,000 bottles of wine, 45,000 pounds of fresh fruit, 8,000 gallons of cream, 18,000 slices of pizza, for about 8,500 people.

For a kid like me it’s hard to fathom really. I kept thinking I would love to detour this ship and dock close to my brothers and sisters who wonder where their next meal is coming from. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Then, it struck me like a slab of prime rib: All of this decadence couldn’t come close to the lavish love of God, to the eternal blessings he has given us through his Son Jesus. This is from Ephesians 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

If you have received His free gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus, you are rich in things that last, in things that truly fulfill. So let’s simply thank him today for what He has done. Think of it: We are redeemed. Forgiven. Rich in grace. You may never set foot on a cruise ship, but a heavenly buffet is yours. Let’s load up today.

607, 2015

Dog in the Storm

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What scares you?

Two things terrify my dog Mojo. The first is our smoke detector. To my children, the smoke detector means that Dad is cooking supper; to the dog, it means her world is caving in. The high-pitched shriek makes her frantic. She clamors for the door and if we let her escape, she takes off down the street. After the second burnt toast catastrophe, she stopped a few hundred feet from our house, then crept slowly back. Then she pawed at the door to the suite where my parents were living at the time. When I tapped on the door, I found my Dad scratching her back and offering words of comfort as she grinned up at him past crooked teeth.

When Dad turned eighty-one, he confided in me for the first time ever that he had been experiencing his share of fear and doubt.

I thought, “What? The man who was part Scotch and part Ginger Ale until he met Jesus? The one who studied the Bible and served God so many years? Doubt? He’d preached sermons on doubt. He led an active prayer life. He modeled obedience to God’s voice.” Yet he doubted.

That night my parents joined us for a barbeque on our back deck. Following dessert, some dark clouds began creeping toward us across the broad prairie sky. Mojo began to quiver. Before long she was panting, then shaking like she had one paw in a light socket. Inside we went. Dad held the dog.

“I’ve got you,” he said. “Don’t worry. The storm can’t get you.”

I could have preached a sermon to my dad about how God has his arms around him in the storm. I could have told Dad that one of the things a dog teaches us is that we don’t have to understand everything to be happy. But I didn’t need to.

You know dogs must have all kinds of questions too. I’m sure Mojo is confused by many of my activities. I keep her from things she’d like. Garbage cans. Highways. Bad food. I’m not sure if she always views me as kind and generous. Still she loves me. I feel a little like this when it comes to my view of God. So much I don’t understand. But a God I can understand would be too small a God to worship.

“Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe,” said Jesus in John 20:29.

And I believe.

As the hail stopped and the storm blew over, Dad seemed to relax his hold on the dog.

“This dog is a blessing,” I heard him say.

I’m sure doubts lingered, but for now a small dog managed to remind him that someone bigger has his arms around us and he’ll never let go. I hope you’ll let that thought bring back the joy today.

2806, 2015

The Big, the Bad, and the Lame

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Have you ever laughed until your sides ached and you had to come up for air? Whenever I ask people in an audience how many have been doing too much laughing lately, no one raises their hands. Unless there are kids there. Their hands shoot straight up. They laugh each time an adult walks into a tree branch. But if you haven’t laughed enough, here a few lame jokes that will at least make you snicker.

• What has one horn and gathers milk? A milk truck.
• What do you call a song sung in a car? A cartoon.
• What’s green and loud? A froghorn.
• What do you get when you cross a stream and a brook? Wet feet.
• What’s round and has a bad temper? A vicious circle.
• What did the rug say to the floor? “Don’t move, I’ve got you covered.”
• What do you call a pig that does karate? A pork chop.
• What kind of bone will a dog never eat? A trombone.
• What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A nervous wreck.
• What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear.

Kids send me their own jokes sometimes. But a few grownups have outgrown laughter. One told me, “I don’t think Jesus laughed. Why should we?” Are you kidding? The Creator of the funny bone, the chimpanzee and the ant-eater doesn’t laugh? I hope you haven’t given in to prune-faced cynicism and negativity. The easiest thing in the world is to be a critic. I’m guilty of it sometimes. If we weren’t allowed to sit around complaining, most coffee shops would be bankrupt by Wednesday. But cynicism is no friend of joy. Discernment is of the wise; negativity is not. For the cynic, every picture frame is crooked, every tuna casserole over-cooked.

If you’re ever tempted towards cynicism, here are three biblical ideas to remember. First, choose to think on things that are pure and lovely and of good report. It’s startling what one positive person can do to a conversation. Secondly, when you see faults in others, reflect on God’s grace to you. Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.” Third, make the theme of each day gratitude. “In everything give thanks.” Everything? That’s what the Bible tells us. And when we carry out this simple act we find that everything changes. Joy grows best in the soil of thanksgiving.

So think on things that are pure. Reflect on God’s grace. Give thanks today. It’s impossible to be a cynic when we do this. And it’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself laughing again. Even at jokes like this: What do you get from a pampered cow? Spoiled milk.

2106, 2015

The Power of a Laugh

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When I was two years old, I realized that I could make people laugh by walking around with my soother stuck in my ear. Ever since, I’ve been hooked on laughter. As I exited diapers and entered school, I was horrified to discover that teachers didn’t share the same passion for humour. In fact, they had me stay after class to write things on the chalkboard. I will not put frogs in Marylou’s lunch bag. I will not burp the ABCs. They said, “What’s so funny? Wipe that grin off your face. Take that carrot out of your nose.” Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could make a living with laughter. But that’s what I get to do today.

It wasn’t easy at first. For one thing, I had to earn money to buy food, because my children wouldn’t eat anything else. But before long people started to call. “Just come make us laugh,” they said. And I was cheese in a barbecue.
Did you know that laughter is good for you? A hundred studies show that laughter plays a key role in good health and longevity. And I’m amazed at how God has designed humour to help heal humans emotionally and mentally.
I was speaking at an event when Devin introduced himself and told me his amazing story. Devon is a pastor. He was driving to speak at a gathering of leaders when he turned into a gas station. A pickup truck screeched up beside him. The driver slammed his door and began punching and kicking the black car at the pump in front of him. The driver, a terrified young lady, slumped beside her car, sobbing in terror. Devin stepped bravely between the lady and the violent man. That’s the last thing he remembers for more than a year.

“I was told he stopped punching and kicking her car and started on me,” Devin said. His Good Samaritan act resulted in head trauma, amnesia, and a host of disorders including PTSD. “Apart from God, laughter became my deepest friend,” he later wrote in a letter to me. “I turned to your books. It was a challenge to read, but knowing I would receive a laugh pushed me on to read a sentence, then a paragraph and months after the incident I was finally able to read—and laugh—at the same time. I have come to realize afresh the power a joy-filled spirit possesses.” Thanks Reverend Devin. Or Rev. Dev as he calls himself. One of the Bible verses he loves is from the prophet Nehemiah who told the people, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Today Rev. Dev. is helping addicted young people find hope in Jesus.

I don’t know what you’re up against today, but my prayer is that you’ll remember that there’s hope ahead. The day will come when with God’s strength you can laugh again.

1606, 2015

Into The Fire

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Here’s our question of the day: if you were given 30 seconds to run through your house and take a few things before it burned down, what would you grab?

I think I’d take my wife. And my golf clubs. And maybe the dog. On second thought, my wife could walk out on her own, so could the dog. So I’d just take the golf clubs. How about you? I asked some friends what they would snatch from their burning homes. The most common answers were family photos, heirlooms, Bibles, wallets, cell phones, shoes, computers, pets, and wedding videos. Lamar said he’d grab a fire extinguisher first. Good call. Laurel said she would take her teeth, and Larissa her toothbrush. “Love that thing,” she said, “it’s part of the family!” If those two were roommates, Larissa could brush Laurel’s teeth after the fire.

Nathan Jenkins, a wise and discerning gentleman, said he would take his favourite book, Tricks My Dog Taught Me about Life, Love, and God. I’m sure he was serious. Thank you, Nathan. You’re brilliant. Julie said, “My family had a house fire and as difficult as it is to have to replace things you lose like laptops and phones, we will never get back old family photos, baby keepsakes, and clay hand prints. Next time, I’d ask not what I want now but what I will want later.” Barbara lost her house as well. She said, “I miss my pictures the most. In the end it is just stuff. You can’t take it to heaven. Thankfully all of us got out.”

In December 2005, an apartment building in the Bronx caught fire. With flames engulfing her third floor bedroom, Tracinda Foxe leaned out her window with her one-month-old baby boy. With no other option she let go. The infant tumbled three stories into the waiting arms of Felix Vazquez, a – get this – catcher on a local baseball team. He performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, saving the boy’s life. I tell you, that guy can play catch on my baseball team anytime.
At the heart of Christianity is a rescue story. A story of the God who valued us enough to send His son into the fire after us. Romans 5 says that, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Soak in the joy of that ultimate rescue today and you’ll find the laughter isn’t far away. When I told my wife that I would rescue her and then the golf clubs from the house she smiled and said, “No you wouldn’t. You’ve been golfing a lot lately. Your golf clubs are in the car.”

So what would you save if your house was on fire? Leave your answers in the comment section below.

706, 2015

Worshipping Dog

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Not long after we brought our dog Mojo home, some friends whom we shall call Jane and Al came over for dinner. I was smothering four medium rare steaks in sauce on the backyard barbecue when they arrived. Mojo introduced them to all six inches of herself by going completely crazy, leaping and running mad circles around them, as if she were about to sign them up to sell Amway. When Al saw the dog, he said, “I suppose they can be fun, but…she reminds me of Precious.” “Who’s Precious?” I asked.

Precious, Al told me, is Jane’s parent’s dog. Since this little bundle of Chihuahua arrived, Jane’s parents had missed their grandchildren’s graduations, birthdays, and Christmases. They didn’t even make it to their daughter’s wedding. Al said, “They gave the grandkids away because the dog was allergic to ‘em.” “Precious doesn’t travel so well,” Jane continued. “No one is good enough to dog sit. So the three of them stay home together. They plan this dog’s meals on a chart. They buy Halloween outfits and liver biscotti and oatmeal shampoo for sensitive skin. They feed it organic dog food. Filtered water. Talk about overindulgence.”

Canadians, I have since learned, spend over $10 billion a year on their pets. You can get Fido into acupuncture sessions for $150 an hour and pay $3,500 for hydrotherapy treatments. It’s not something I mention when we’re in third world countries. Mojo cocked her head as if she knew we were talking about her kind. Suddenly Al laughed. “Last Christmas morning our kids opened a package about three feet by four feet. We had asked Jane’s parents for a picture of them that we could hang about the mantle. It was the portrait we had asked for, but they were holding the dog and they’re both looking at the dog!” “No way!” I said. It sounds preposterous, but it’s true.

Jane’s parents are lifelong atheists. They both admit that there is nothing more important to them than their “Precious.” I find it easy to point fingers, but all of us are in danger of putting something in the place God was meant to be – self; a cause; a relationship; a house. I’m guilty so often of elevating the temporal above the eternal. But true joy and lasting fulfillment arrive when we bow our knee before the one true God. Put anything else in His place and it will disappoint, whether you possess it or not.

Speaking of disappointment, my dog has been staring at me for quite some time, disappointed that I haven’t offered her a treat. Just wait ‘til I tell her there will be no acupuncture or oatmeal shampoo.

3005, 2015

Dating Rachael

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Years ago, my daughter Rachael began leaving our house to date the guy she loved: her Dad. Others wanted the privilege. Boys proposed to her when she was three, four, and twice when she was six. When she was a teen, she hung a Bible verse on her bedroom door: Psalm 56:1: “Have mercy on me, Oh God, for men hotly pursue me.” (A little out of context, methinks.) And boy did they pursue her. But Rachael always said no. “They’re not the kind of guys I wanna marry,” she told me. “Besides, I like dating you. You pay for everything.”

Then along came Jordan. It was surprising the things the guy would do for free. He cleaned the shed, repaired the dryer, mowed the grass, and correctly assembled a barbecue (though there were parts left over). When he asked if he could date my daughter, I talked to him while sharpening a knife. I told him that nothing on earth matters more to me than this girl. I let him know I’m not a big guy, but I have friends. And I told him about the video surveillance units we’ve installed in every room. And in his car. He chuckled nervously. “I’ll be good to her.” And he was.

One day Jordan tapped on our bedroom door and tip-toed in like a porcupine entering a balloon factory. “I was going to ask you about, uh, marrying Rachael.” “You have the right to remain silent,” I informed him. “Seriously, we like what we see in you. You’re a gentleman. And we’ve seen your love for Jesus.” I asked a few simple questions.* Jordan spluttered a little, so I suggested we talk about these things during the seven years he would spend raising cattle for me. Three days after Christmas, Jordan got down on one knee, and popped the question. It wasn’t the first time she’d been asked, but this time Rachael said, “Yes.” We couldn’t be happier for them. But life is changing fast. My only daughter, the second girl I ever dated, is all grown up. Life speeds by, so we’re wise to find out what never changes and hang on. Lamentations 3 says, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.” Through all the twists and turns, we trust him for whatever comes and goes. Especially when it comes to our kids.

A few months before Jordan and Rachael tie the knot (this June), I asked Jordan, “May I have your permission to date her when you’re married?” He smiled and gladly agreed. Sometimes we watch them in the car talking about their June wedding. (The picture is quite clear from these new-fangled surveillance cameras.) They are planning a lavish catered affair, but I think we should have a backyard potluck. A-E: bring a hot dish. F-M: salads. N-Z: toasters. I haven’t mentioned it to Rachael yet. But surely she will leave that decision up to me.
After all, I’m the Dad. I pay for everything.

*What questions did you or would you ask a potential son-in-law? Phil will post a list soon in the comments below.

2405, 2015

My Atheist Friend

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Do you have any atheists in your life? I hope so. I hear all the jokes like, “God doesn’t believe in atheists.” Or quotes like the one from Woody Allen: “How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?” But for me, atheism has a face. His name is Roger.

Some time ago, I learned about a website where Christian pet owners can hire atheists to look after our pets after the rapture—you know, where we get taken up to heaven. So I sent off a goofy email. Roger replied. We struck up a friendship and before long, we began comparing dogs. I sent him a cartoon one day. Two fleas are walking along on the back of a dog between hairs the size of trees. One flea says to the other, “Sometimes I wonder if there really is a dog.” I told Roger that I can’t prove to him there is a God. But to reject the claims of Christianity I’d have to ignore some rather large hairs. Here are just a few:

1) Why is there something rather than nothing? Nothing comes about without some outside cause. Call it one big mysterious bang if you will, but what caused that bang and the perfect calibration that followed?

2) Why is there the beauty in music, and these dogs, and a sunset, and the longings they evoke in us? If we are products of meaningless, random forces, why is there the sense that life and love mean so much?

3) And what do you with Jesus? Historians agree that Paul’s letters were written just fifteen to twenty years after Jesus’ death. So how could Paul get away with writing his own eye-witness account and his claim that the risen Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once—most of whom were still alive?

Romans 1:20 tells us that “ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse.” God has left us clues wherever we look, about His existence, His character, and His great love for us.

So let’s represent Him well today. If you have a Roger in your life, keep praying and keep being faithful.

Often Roger and I disagree, so I’ve learned to circle back to talking about dogs and family and the stuff of life. After all, my role isn’t to change him, but to be there, to care. And sometimes to help him laugh. Which he did when I told him about the dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac who lies awake all night wondering if there really is a Dog.

1705, 2015

Water Has Broken

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Last Saturday, I got two phone calls, one from my son Steve who said, “Dad, my water heater broke.” I have no idea why he’d call a guy like me. I’m not even certain where hot water comes from. The basement, I think. “Mop up the water,” I told him, “and call your Uncle Bill. He’s a plumber.” The second call came from my daughter who said, “Daddy, my water broke.” On April first she said the same thing, but this time I knew it was no joke. She said the contractions were 15 minutes apart, which sounded urgent to me.Twenty-four hours of labour had begun.

Times have changed since I was a kid. Back then, Dads weren’t allowed in the same county as their wives during childbirth. It’s likely because guys were known for fainting in the delivery room. “Ah, look Bob, there’s your son’s hair.”Wham. Then everybody had to keep stepping over Bob.Times change. Months before Rachael’s water broke, she sent out formal requests inviting to the delivery room her husband, her mother, her best friend, and her doula, which I had never heard of. A doula is someone who has had at least 12 children herself, so is qualified to offer practical assistance and emotional support. Plus, she brings crackers and cheese to the birthing room while her husband stays home with the kids, which is what I was doing. I was babysitting my first granddaughter, when my wife called to tell me they were running out of food and would I bring more snacks.

So I did. And suddenly I was standing in my daughter’s delivery room. Worship music was playing loudly. I offered words of comfort to my daughter. “Rachael, remember that most people have been born this way. It’ll be okay.” Then I fainted. Not really. But I did leave rather quickly.Back home I thought about a phone call from my daughter 11 months earlier. “Daddy,” she said, “We lost the baby.” In the midst of darkness and fear, God heard our prayers for another child. I flipped the pages of my wife’s Bible to Psalm 78, “We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD…his power and his mighty wonders…He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them.”

Early Sunday morning, we said hello to our second grandbaby. I was lovestruck. Despite my suggestion that they name her Phyllis in my honor, she is named after the Lord of the Ringscourageous character Eowyn. Welcome to our world Eowyn. Jesus is here. And you’re gonna like your Granddaddy. I’m gonna feed you ice cream before your parents want me to. Then we’ll all go over to your uncle’s place where you can have a hot bath. He’s got himself a brand new water heater.

1005, 2015

Take Another Run At It

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Have you ever been cranky? Years ago a friend came into my office with a cartoon of a prune-faced man talking to his doctor. He said, “What do you mean I’ve got an ulcer? I don’t get ulcers, I give them.”
“That’s you,” my friend said. “Are you serious?” He laughed. “Well…just a little.”

The truth is, he was right. Not long before, my wife had experienced her first grand mal seizure and despite a thousand prayers and a dozen doctors, the seizures arrived several times a day, knocking the stuffing out of us. I was trying to hold down a job, while caring for a wife and aging parents who lived with us. And then we had three kids and a new little dog named Mojo. It was like shovelling during a blizzard. And I began to wonder, does God even care?

One night I lay awake and the thought hit me: Run Callaway. Make a dash for it. A man I played softball with had done this. One week he was there, the next he wasn’t. Perhaps that would be the shortest path to peace. Of course I knew what was right, but what was wrong caused my stomach to jump in anticipation.

Until the night I found the kids kneeling at the top of stairs cheering for the dog. Don’t ask me why, but Mojo had a toy cat between her teeth and was trying to drag it up the stairs. The stuffed cat was twice her size. But the stubborn dog wouldn’t quit. She pushed it. Tossed it. Dragged it sideways. She tried pulling it backward and tumbled head over heels in a heap. Then she looked up at us and wagged her tail. “Come on,” said Rachael. “You can do it.” Then it happened. She backed up, lifted her head and made a run for it. One stride at a time she lugged that cat up fourteen stairs. It was a miracle of tenacity, courage and perseverance. I cheered. Maybe because I was the one who needed that example.

I have come to discover that one of the quickest ways to long-term misery is short-term thinking. You want joy? When it comes to matters of faith and conscience, don’t give up. Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” One of the signs that God is at work in us is perseverance in difficulty and distress. Talent and opportunity and education are wonderful gifts – but none can take the place of determination.

So hang in there today. Back up. Wag your tail, and take another run at it.

405, 2015

What Mom Knows

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Mothers are amazing.

My wife grew up in a home of mostly girls. So when our two boys came along, she wasn’t quite prepared for two little orangutans streaking about the house wearing nothing but big smiles. They put jello in the toaster, mud in their diapers, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the VCR. Still, she loved them. Along the way, she learned valuable lessons. Here are seven she knows but wishes she didn’t:

1. A three-year-old can out scream 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.
2. Kids should never throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on.
3. A single pane window will not stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.
4. An eight-ounce glass of milk spilt on the back floor of the car without being reported can stink up the whole vehicle for two summers.
5. Peas are easily removed from a two-year-old’s nose; beans require a lot more work.
6. Marshmallows and microwaves should not be combined.
7. Legos will pass through the digestive tract of a four-year-old. Dollies will not.

My own mom raised five little hooligans living under the poverty line. Mom knew that the kids were organized and unionized, but they weren’t in charge. She was. Mom knew to never utter a threat without backing it up with action. Mom knew to let us kids make mistakes. She knew that money was a lousy substitute for being there, that words were no substitute for a faithful life, and she knew that kids spell love T-I-M-E. She knew Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. She demonstrated his love by the life she lived. She took God very seriously; herself, not so much. She read the Bible each day and lived on her knees. She loved Psalm 78:4: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.” I’m so thankful for the things my mom knew.

Thanks, moms, for hanging in there. You loved us through the runny nose and full diaper stage; you endured loud noises and late nights; you loved us when we didn’t return it; you never stopped believing the prodigal would come home. Motherhood is far from glamorous, but there’s nothing more important. If it wasn’t for the things my wife knows, who knows where our kids would be today. She knows that if you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42-pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a superman cape. But it will rotate a birthday cake fast enough to leave icing on all four walls.

2604, 2015

Diet Style Evangelism

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Have you ever been on a diet? My friend Steve Biggerstaff has. Last summer, we were having lunch together and for the first time in world history, Steve ordered a salad. I said, “Are you okay? Do you need some Rolaids? A doctor?” He said, “I’m on a diet.” Now understand, I liked Steve the way he was. You want Steve on your football team, not your track team; you put this guy on the line in football and opponents leave the field. God made some people fast; He made Steve big.

This is when I made a mistake. I said, “Tell you what. I’ll donate $10 to the ministry of Laugh Again for every pound you lose, on one condition. That you donate $10 to the ministry of Laugh Again for every pound you gain back.” Soon I wrote out the first cheque and I decided to start sending Steve chocolate bars and triple-heart-attack cheesecakes. He wouldn’t eat them. He kept riding his little treadmill and eating his dainty little salads. He told me he liked this new lifestyle. He felt better. To date, Steve’s diet has cost me $800. He’s lost 80 pounds. He looks great. He feels great too. Ask him how and he’ll smile and say, “One day at a time, brother. One calorie at a time.”

I wonder sometimes if we think of sharing our faith like we think of dieting. We get excited about it after some sermon or book. And we say, “I’m gonna tell others about Jesus.” Then after a few weeks we’re back at the same old buffet loading up on ham. But what if we simply take small steps like Steve? What if we just decide to be a faithful follower of Jesus today? We wake up and pray to be faithful. We read a few words from the Bible in the morning. We start a conversation with co-workers, neighbours, or complete strangers on the bus. We talk to God through the day as we would a friend, and we find ourselves being a little friendlier with the guy at the gym or the office, simply because we see others as people God loves lavishly. At night we read His words and before we know it we’re telling others the story of what He has done for us. Try this out. Let me know what happens.

One more suggestion: would you send a package to Back to the Bible Canada? Put on it, “Attn: Steve Biggerstaff.” Throw in 20 pounds of chocolate. And let us know if you have a great story about a time that you told someone about Jesus. You can click to leave your comment below. We love to hear from you.

1904, 2015

What a Book!

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I don’t know about you, but I love obscure facts. Like the fact that honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil. Apart from McDonald’s French fries. I just found one I’d left beneath a car seat six years ago and it tasted the same as it did then. Here are a few other little known facts to impress your friends with today:

* The world’s largest coffee pot is located in Davidson, Saskatchewan, Canada. It stands 24 feet tall, and could hold 150,000 8 ounce cups of coffee if they poured it in there. My friend Arnie drinks that much coffee each week by Wednesday.
* George Washington had to borrow money so he could travel to his inauguration. It’s true. Apparently Al Gore had the Lear jet booked.
* The first owner of the Marlboro cigarette company died of lung cancer. Reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote, “Giving up smoking is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times.”
* And finally, the number one shoplifted book of all time? It’s the Bible.

I hope you own one. And that you didn’t steal it. Here are some amazing facts you may not know about the Bible. It is a library of 66 books, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek over the course of about 1600 years by as many as 40 different authors. Shepherds. Farmers. Tent-makers. Doctors. Fishermen. Priests. Philosophers and kings. It was the first book ever printed by Mr. Gutenberg. This literary masterpiece has stood the test of time. Historical discoveries regularly come to light that support the accuracy of the Bible. And of course the Bible tells the story of a sinless carpenter from Nazareth. Jesus, the son of God who love us to death on a cross, and offers to remove our sin and shame, declare us righteous, and give us abundant life.

For centuries people have followed this book. They have obeyed it. Treasured it. Smuggled it. Quoted and misquoted it. Crusaders fought for it. Others dismissed it. Denied it. Burned it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

If you need a shot of joy today, pick it up and soak it in. This is a book like no other. Trust me, it sure beats filling your mind with useless trivia. Although there are a few more tidbits I can’t resist telling you: The electric chair was invented by a dentist. And stewardesses is the longest word you can type with only your left hand.

1104, 2015

Mile High Evangelism

Blog-bannerIt’s confession time.

I used to hate telling people about my faith. I would sit on an airplane, knowing that if it crashed, I was responsible for the eternal destiny of everyone on board.

When our kids were younger, we were privileged to spend a week in Mexico — thanks to my uncle “Air Miles.” On the trip home, we were scattered throughout a packed airplane. Beside me sat Mike and his girlfriend. He introduced himself to me by saying, “Did you get drunk a lot in Mexico?” “No,” I laughed. “I had a ton of fun sober. How about you?” “Man, I got drunk every night. It was so cool.” “How did you feel in the morning?” I asked. “Oh…I threw up a lot. It was awful.”

Before long, we were laughing together. Then out of the blue he asked, “What religion are you?” I said, “I’m not religious.” He said, “I’m sort of a Buddhist, but sort of, like, a Christian Hindu. We’re studying religion in University. My prof says the important thing is tolerance, but most of all, I’m just learning to believe in myself.” “Did you ever let yourself down?” I asked with a grin. Mike laughed. “Yah, but I’m getting better. So…are you an atheist?” “No,” I said, “I just have a relationship with Jesus. He’s changed my life.” “Oh, Jesus is cool,” Mike said. “He was a good teacher. Like Mohammed or Buddha.” “Well, I used to think that too. But what if your prof came to class one day and said, ‘I’m the Son of God, and no one comes to God except through me?’” “I’d think he was nuts.” Mike paused, then a light came on. “Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, Mike. Either He was lying, He was crazy, or He was right. They didn’t crucify Him because He was a nice guy or a good teacher. Either He was a liar, a lunatic, or He’s Lord (I was paraphrasing C.S. Lewis). “I know.” Mike nodded. “He must be Lord.”

Down through the centuries, millions have come to that same conclusion. That Jesus Christ, God’s Son, lived a sinless life, was crucified in our place and rose from the dead. That He defeated death so we might live with Him forever—and live abundant lives down here. That day before exiting the plane, we exchanged addresses so I could send Mike and his girlfriend Bibles. They met my wife, who smiled and said, “I’ll be praying for you.” I told them that if she does that, they won’t have a chance.

They laughed and said they wouldn’t mind at all if she did. Today, would you do three things? Be yourself. Love the people around you. And remember how much God loves them too.

804, 2015

April Fools

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I have incredible news for you. My wife tells me that she’s expecting. It’s a miracle. A miracle! In other news, it’s April Fools. And you have been fooled. April Fools was a terrifying day for me as a child. As the youngest of five, I never quite knew what my siblings had cooked up for me. I would awake and look under my bed to see if my brother was waiting to grab me. I’d peer cautiously around corners and check inside sandwiches for earthworms.

April Fools isn’t an official holiday, but people have been fooling one another on the first of April for centuries. In March of 1860, many important Londoners received formal invitations that read, “Tower of London, Admit Bearer and Friend to view the annual Ceremony of Washing the White Lions on Sunday, April 1. Admittance Only at White Gate.” Many carriages arrived, but there is no white gate at the tower of London, and there has never been a Washing of White Lions ceremony. The important Londoners soon realized they’d been fleeced. Now, if you’re looking for some April first ideas, I might suggest a few things that have worked for me. If you have kids, bake them a chicken pot pie filled with vanilla pudding and starburst candies. Or bake a cake. Coat it with thick creamy icing, then fill it with meatloaf. You may start a family tradition. Ok. I’m glad I got that out of my system.

This is quite a time of year. Right around the time we engage in April hoaxes, Christians celebrate an event of two thousand years ago that some called a hoax. In fact, a few of the authorities of the day claimed that Jesus’ resurrection was a clever trick. But get this: historians agree that the letters of Paul were written just 15 to 20 years after Jesus’ death. So take it from a trickster – there is no possible way could Paul get away with writing his own eye-witness account of how the risen Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once, most of whom were still alive. Only one man in history had followers who died insisting he had been resurrected. Why would Jesus’ disciples have done this? There is only one explanation. They had seen the risen Jesus. If you doubt me, try faking a resurrection in your town. Let me know how that goes.

May April Fools day remind us of the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus, our true reason for joy. Now, I’d better go bake a cake for my wife. Though she says she has a craving for pickles and ice cream.

1603, 2015

First world problems

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When my daughter was waitressing at a gourmet restaurant, she was shocked at how often people complained. Once the food was served and the patrons had a few minutes to sample it, she was taught to ask with a smile, “How is everything?” in hopes that everything was alright. But when some of the regular whiners came in, she felt like asking, “Is anything alright?” I’m sure you’ve never complained, but we all know people who have. Here are some ridiculous complaints from actual people:

 

– I spend more time looking for a movie to watch than watching one.

– My hand is too chubby to shove into the Pringles chip container, so I have to tilt the container.

– My husband does everything I ask, but why do I have to ask him?

– I have more clothes than hangers.

– I have enough dip for my chips, but if I open another container, I won’t have enough chips for my dip.

 

I was speaking to a group of nurses and during a Q&A time someone asked me, “What are your pet peeves?” What would you say? In hindsight, I wish I had been more eloquent, but I told them I couldn’t think of one thing off hand. Life is too short to focus on my insignificant little first world problems. What on earth did I have to complain about? I had breakfast that morning. I had a wife who still loved me and found me handsome. So she had gone completely blind. They laughed at that.

People in the first world say, “I’m hungry but I better not eat because I just brushed my teeth.” People in the third world say, “I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat. You have a toothbrush? Wow.” I heard someone say, “My sandwich is so full that it’s hard to eat.” I’ve been in countries where they have nothing to put in their sandwich. And if they did, they may have nothing to sandwich it with.

Most of us don’t need another guilt trip, but I often need a reminder that I should be characterized by unending gratitude and enormous generosity. Real joy shows up only when we give thanks for God’s blessings and when we do what we can for others. Just this morning I found five places in the Bible where we’re told to,“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” How about you? What are some practical ways that gratitude shines through? Maybe you can thank a waitress today. And if you’re wealthy enough to have more clothes than hangers, rather than buy more hangers, give half those clothes away.

 

903, 2015

Home Boy

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So I’ve written another book. But this one is different from the others. Through the years I’ve written about kids and parenting, about golf and guys. I’ve written about integrity and aging parents. About marriage and laughter. I’ve written about everyone I’ve caught hanging around our house, and finally I decided it was time to write about the dog.

The new book is called Tricks My Dog Taught Me About Life, Love, and God. You can learn a kajillion things watching a dog. Disgusting things, but worthwhile things too. When I see my dog chase her tail I learn that some things aren’t worth chasing. When I come through my front door and she pounces on me, I determine to be more interested in others. I’ve learned to wag more and bark less. And I’ve learned to look out the window and bark at the garbage man. An old preacher said that if you want to know God better, get a dog. Here are just two things about God I’ve learned from my dog.

1. Beg. A dog’s nose is up to 10 million times as sensitive as a human’s. Late at night I try to sneak snacks past my dog, bringing cheese and crackers quietly to bed. In seconds she is inches from my face, begging. A dog teaches us that we have not because we ask not. George Muller cared for 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. He said, “The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer; they do not persevere. If they desire anything for God’s glory, they should pray until they get it.” In begging, my dog reminds me to go ahead and ask.

2. Long for home. We take our old dog out for a walk and she lags behind, but the moment we turn toward our house something happens. She tugs at the leash, picking up speed. Home is where her people are, a bone, apricots and carpet to roll on. When we long for home the stuff of earth begins to lose its attraction, and we care more for others down here. My prayer for you today is that you’ll be a little bit dog-like. That you’ll long for heaven, that you’ll take your requests to God. You may want to kneel by the sofa and talk to Him. If you see the garbage man coming, resist the urge to jump up on the back of that sofa and bark.

2702, 2015

The Most Useless Activity


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When I was barely wet behind the ears, I worked one summer for a construction company. Now, if you’ve ever been the new guy or gal on the worksite, you tend to get stuck doing jobs no one else wants to do. The real challenge comes when you finish all of these jobs, and your boss catches you doing nothing. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Well um, ya see, I, uh, just scratchin’ my nose,” you stammer. Then he squints at you like you’re two years old. “I ain’t payin’ you three bucks an hour to scratch your nose. Get to work.” “But I finished all the work,” you say, thinking you probably shouldn’t have said that. “Then make work,” he growls and stomps off to do something important.

So I’d walk around with a dazed expression, picking up nails and putting them back down, then I’d squint at stuff like I was examining it with a purpose in mind, then pick up a cloth and busily start wiping down clean surfaces. I became talented at making work for myself. A good pile of lumber could keep me occupied for hours. I’d pick up several boards and carry them about 20 feet and place them on the ground. Then I’d go back for a few more until I had relocated the entire pile. After sweeping a clean floor, I’d return the pile to its original location. Then wipe down a clean surface, and move the pile of boards to a new spot. I could keep myself busy like this all afternoon. It was the longest summer of my life.

But the truth is, there’s an activity that’s even more pointless then a make- work project. It’s the most useless activity in the universe. It wastes time, sucks life out of our years, and has never done a single person one ounce of good. I’m talking about worry.

Worry doesn’t take you anywhere. It robs us of peace and sleep and laughter, and it doesn’t make that thing you’re worrying about less likely to happen. Jesus wasn’t a big fan of worry either. In Matthew 12:25, He said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” It ain’t gonna happen. But there is good news. Jesus has promised to be with us through all of life’s trials, and fill us with joy as we choose to release our worries and trust Him instead. So I hope that you are looking at Him, not at your troubles today. Even if your boss has you moving piles of wood and polishing clean surfaces.

And let us know if there are any strange jobs that you have had to perform at work. Leave your stories in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you.

1302, 2015

The Valentine Blues

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It’s that time of year. Snuggle up to that special someone in your life, nibble on their earlobe, and tell them how much they make your heart flutter and your knees wobble. Time to blow some cash on chocolate and flowers, and dust off that bottle of cologne—if you can find it. For many of us guys, it’s the only day of the year we comb our hair—if we can find that. My wife Ramona is expecting a romantic candle-lit dinner but insists I refrain from cooking anything as the smoke detector got quite a workout last year.

But maybe this isn’t such a happy day for you. Perhaps the bouquets have been getting smaller, or marriage isn’t quite what you thought it would be. A friend told me, “My cat is my only valentine.” It’s Singleness Awareness Day or SAD. So I’d like to dedicate this episode of Laugh Again to any of my friends who have the Valentine blues. Here are three steps to being encouraged today.

1) Keep your sense of humour active. A single gal said that this Valentine’s day she’ll just spend the day with her true love: food. What a great sense of humour. The best sense of humour comes from those with a golden heart of gratitude.

2) Remember how much you have. In 1 Peter 1:3, paraphrased in The Message, we read, “Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!” We’re all in danger of looking to some future event to fulfill us – thinking, when I land that job, when I get married, when my spouse stops whining, when I retire, then I’ll be happy. But if you’re miserable being single, then you’ll be miserable married. Let’s start today and be the kind of people our dogs think we are.

3) Remember that Hollywood tells lies. Yup. Dean Martin sang, You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You. It’s a lie. Happily ever after is a fairy tale. If you’re single, there’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, you’re part of an illustrious group that includes Jesus of Nazareth, Leonardo da Vinci, Joan of Ark, Mother Teresa, Sir Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson. You say, wait Phil, those people are all dead. Well, one of them isn’t. Jesus was raised from the dead and he loves you beyond belief. So make the most of what you have now. Throw a party. And save me some cake.

But I’d better go. My wife is waiting patiently at home for that dinner by candlelight that I promised her. So I think I’ll find that old bottle of cologne, and cook something. After I take the batteries out of the smoke alarm

902, 2015

Cruel PUNishment

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One of the joys of being a humourist is that people think that I’m just dying to hear their jokes. I have a friend that usually has a pun for me when I bump into him. He’ll say, “Hey Phil, what’s the difference between a nicely dressed man on a tricycle, and a poorly dressed man on a bicycle?” “I’m not sure, what?” “A tire. Ha. Get it? A tire?” I do appreciate a good pun now and then. But I find bad puns to be a cruel form of PUNishment. Like my ear drums are being PUNctured. In fact, I think they should be exPUNged, and a poorly PUNctuated pun should be PUNished with imPUNity.

Here are some puns that may bring a giggle or a groan:
– A boiled egg is hard to beat.
– Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time because then you won’t have a leg to stand on.
– “Doctor! Doctor! Help! I think I’m shrinking!” “Calm down, please. You’ll just have to be a little patient.” Ha!
– Friction can be a drag sometimes

I’m not a big fan of puns. Before long they start to drive me crazy. On the other hand, a friend of mine will laugh so hard after hearing a pun, I fear that he may PUNcture a lung.
Humour is a fascinating thing. And it’s interesting how a sense of what’s funny can be so different from person to person. Or from culture to culture. When I speak to groups from different cultures, I have to figure out what they find funny. Otherwise, I can use my best material and not get a single snort from the crowd.

We’re all different. But it’s ok. You like puns. And I like PUNching people who like puns. No, I’m joking. But unfortunately, we human beings struggle at getting along with those who are different. We tend to clump together with people who laugh at the same jokes, and talk, think, act, and look like we do. Then look down our noses at people we don’t understand. I’m so glad God didn’t adopt the same attitude. While we were sinners, Jesus died for us and He invites us to be His friends today. John 13:34 says: “A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

So why not reach out and love someone a little different today? Talk to a new person in the church foyer, or on the job this week, and smile at those who don’t laugh at your jokes. And if you like puns, well, here’s another: What is a laughing stock? It’s a herd of cattle listening to Laugh Again radio.

202, 2015

A Matter of Life and Debt

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Many years ago my wife and I sat down to look at our finances, and whether or not we would run out of money before the end of the month. Our net was looking pretty gross, so we made a list of our personal assets. I’m told there are two kinds of assets. “Liquid” assets are measured by how much milk, orange juice and root beer you have in the fridge. “Solid” assets are those that will outlive the expiry date on your milk carton.

Here is a list of our “solid” assets:
• A rust coloured car that started out green
• A little dog that we paid $300 for (or approximately $100 per brain cell)
• Some money in a daily interest savings account (interest rate of .004%)
• $220 worth of key chains
• $250 worth of pens in a drawer beside the stove (only four of them worked)
• $7.59 in spare change beneath our sofa cushions
• A little money in our checking account

If you are about to back your bank-financed car out of your bank-owned garage to drive to the bank to open a line of credit so you can fill your mortgaged home with new furniture because a sign promises “No payments until February,” please put the keys in your pocket and listen to these three tips to help get you back in the black.

1. Stay out of debt. If you’re married, you know it’s almost impossible to be deeply in love when you’re deeply in debt.
2. Choose contentment over consumption. I saw a bank slogan that said, “We will lend you enough money to get you completely out of debt.” We lose our minds when we focus on cash. But here’s one secret of a joy-filled life. Possessions consume your time. The fewer things we possess, the more time we have to invest in people. Stuff is a lousy substitute for the people that can make our lives rich.
3. Remember there is only one guaranteed investment. Jesus told a story of a rich man who ran out of time to spend the money he had piled up. He died, and do you know how much he left behind? Everything. Jesus referred to him as a fool. We’re wise to put something away for the future, but we are not here to stockpile. There is only one guaranteed inheritance, and we can read about it in 1 Peter chapter 1: “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”

Let that thought bring you joy today. Whether you have a lot or a little, the stuff of earth fades. But things that really matter are kept for us. Forever.

2301, 2015

Fighting The Funk

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Have you ever been in a funk? If you’re not sure, here’s how to tell.
– If you find yourself loading your laundry into the dishwasher, you may be in a funk.
– If you purchased a cheesecake last night and finished the whole thing in your car, you my friend are in a funk.
– If you are ironing pants with your coffee machine, you are definitely in a funk.
– If you are having your most meaningful conversations with houseplants, you are in a funk.
Symptoms may include, but not be limited to: forgetfulness, exhaustion, staring at walls, wearing your clothing inside out, binge eating and compulsively shouting out the names of former high school teachers. Believe it or not, I am no stranger to the blues. The winter months are especially tough. But here are a few things that help me fight the funk.

1) The posture exercise. Let’s do this together. Ready? Slouch down in your chair like your teachers told you not to. Round your shoulders. Take shallow breaths. Close your eyes. Frown and sigh. This is not helping, is it? In fact, I have started daydreaming about cheesecake. Scientists study this stuff and find that a simple frown triggers the grumpy centers in your brain. But it works the other way too. So try this: Stand and stretch, try to touch the ceiling. Jump up and down a few times, even if your vertical has gone horizontal. Take deep breaths and smile. If you work in an office, try this exercise every half hour. Sit with good posture and grin. If you still have a job at 5 PM, congratulations. You’ll be feeling better.
2) Move your body. If ever I catch myself talking to houseplants, I call a friend then drive to our local exercise facility and climb on the gerbil machine. Staying physically active is one of the best things you can do to fend off the funk.
3) Give thanks. Instead of talking with houseplants, talk to God. Give thanks for what you do have, and tell Him what you need. He loves giving good gifts to His kids when they ask.
4) Be Real. You may not have in all together, but the truth is that Jesus came to give you abundant life. Through faith in Jesus, you’re a new creation, a child of God. You’re free. God is working everything out for your good. His Spirit lives in you and is producing His character inside of you. Every day you look more like Him, and nothing can separate you from God’s love.

Would you fill your mind with those truths today? Don’t be afraid to move your body, grin, laugh out loud, give thanks, focus on things that are good, pure, and admirable, then remove that laundry from the dishwasher and serve yourself a single slice of cheesecake. And feel free to share with us, what is helping you fight the funk this winter?

2301, 2015

Hard to Say

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Are there any words you have a hard time saying? How about abstentious and subdermatoglyphic? I’m sure you use them all the time. Be glad you’re not a Biologist. The chemical name for the human protein titin is almost 190,000 letters long. It takes about three and a half hours to pronounce. Don’t worry, I will not attempt it on this program.
I have a friend who can’t pronounce the word spaghetti. Every time he attempts it, he says basketti.
“I said to him once, say spa.”
“Spa.”
“Say ghetti.”
“Ghetti.”
“Now say spa-ghetti.”
“Basketti,” he said.

A friend tries to say permanent, but it comes out “Pernament.” This has been a problem all his life. It’s a permanent problem for him. Library he turns into “libary.” A child I know says chopich for ketchup. Pass the chopich. My wife has a difficult time pronouncing sugar. “Shigar” she says.

How about you? What are some things that you have a hard time saying? One of them for me is “I’m sorry.” Say it with me: “I’m sorry.” I know it’s a hard one, but is there someone who should hear this from you today? What about the words, “I forgive you,” Or “youda best kiddo,” “I appreciate you,” “you’re doing a great job.” How about “I love you”? Many have a hard time getting these three words out. I’ve met people who admitted to me with tears in their eyes that Dad or Mom never once told them “I love you.” One guy told his wife, “I said I love you when I married you in 1954. If it changes I’ll let you know.” Maybe there’s something you need to say to someone. Don’t wait another day to speak life-giving words.

Proverbs 16:24 says this, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Your words can bring healing and life to someone today. Take the risk and say something nice you haven’t said before. Maybe you’ll need to practice a little. Work on the syllables. I’m gonna tell my wife I love her, then ask her for some shigar. Try saying a few things with me: “You make me proud.” How about this one: “Phil, you are the handsomest man this side of Japan.” Thank you. That means a lot.
And feel free to share with us in the comment section below. What are some things that you find hard to say?

1201, 2015

Lost in Translation

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I enjoy the company of people who were not born in my country. Especially those who don’t speak English as their first language and can’t quite wrap their tongues around strange words, like Antidisestablishmentarianism. My books are translated into many languages and mistranslation can be hilarious. A sign in Delphi, Greece reads: “No introducing animals and food on the path.” Have you tried this? “Banana, meet my dog Mojo. Mojo, this is banana. Sit. Stay. Good banana.” On a menu that should say “bowl of salad” it says “Soul of Ballad.” In a Japanese airport, “Luggage disembowl.” In a restaurant: “Keep table clean after dying. Thanks for your corporation.” On a breath mint package: “Gives you strong mouth and refreshing wind.”

Here are some mistranslated signs in China:

– By a slippery floor: “Carefully slip and fall down.” Yes, it’s important to wipe out gracefully.
– This sign discourages loitering: “Dying right here is strictly prohibited.”
– On the door of a Hotel Room: “No smoking the bed.” I would have tried one of those when I was younger, if I could have fit my lips around it.
– A keep off the grass sign: “I like your smile, but unlike you put your shoes on my face.”

In fifth grade we’d played a game called Gossip. You had a circle of about ten people. The first would say something like, “My panda eats bamboo shoots.” Then whisper it to the person beside them. That person would whisper it to the next person and by the time it had traveled through the entire group the last person thought it said “Your mother wears army boots.” And a fight would break out. That’s how rumours spread. Most rumours are nothing more than truth lost in translation, and they ruin relationships, and reputations. “Gossip,” says Proverbs 16:28, is spread by wicked people. They stir up trouble and break up friendships. Tempted to jump on the gossip train? I suggest you buy these two products instead:

1. Duct tape. Make a decision today that you won’t say anything negative about someone who isn’t present. Use a strip of duct tape if necessary. Ephesians 4:29 say: “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear.”
2. The megaphone. Spread good news loudly. If someone’s name comes up in conversation. Think of something good about them and tell others about it. You’ll be amazed at what happens when we stuff what’s evil and spread what’s good. And each time you hear gossip, let’s remember the warning on that breath mint package: May you have strong mouth and refreshing wind today, my friend.

2212, 2014

Three Things You Don’t Need This Christmas

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Time for family and complete strangers to gather ‘round and eat your cookies. Time for standing in long lines to buy stuff for the increasingly ungrateful little wretches who gather around the tree like vultures around a carcass. Ok. Sorry. I got carried away. We love these kids. But the fact is, roughly 62 percent of the items on store shelves today are 75 percent useless. Here are a few we’ve found this Christmas:

1) The ABhancer is an easy alternative to sit-ups. It’s a plastic frame with six little compartments that you can strap around your mid section. Cinch it tight and it transforms your belly rolls into six-pack abs. Slip a shirt over top and no one’s the wiser.
2) Here’s another product that is virtually flying off shelves straight into clearance bins. Animal Footprint Shoes. These shoes leave realistic animal footprints in snow or soft dirt. Imagine your neighbor opening his front door to discover that a bear has been walking through fresh snow on his porch, as you make growling sounds from the bushes.
3) Japanese manufacturers have outdone themselves again. First they came up with Toyota, now…The Sleep at Work Stickers. To avoid getting caught sleeping on the job, apply these stickers to your closed eyelids as you recline in your office chair for a snooze. If your boss peers in your direction, it will look like your unblinking eyes are staring off into space and that you are deep in productive thought.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Phil, I can’t possibly survive another holiday season if I don’t purchase these immediately.” If so, you need help my friend. And I have some. Here are three free items to bring joy to your holidays.

1) A good laugh. Maybe you’ve heard the one about the guy who ate Christmas decorations and got tinselitis. If that helps you laugh, great. A laugh a day keeps the Grinch away.
2) A grateful heart. The cure for the holiday blues is gratitude. Happiness won’t come from getting what we don’t have but from appreciating what God has already given us.
3) A fresh shot of hope. God’s greatest gift to us is free. John 3:16 tells us how much God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and everlasting life. Our hope is in Him this Christmas. Well, I better get back to work. I think I’ll start by putting these little stickers on my eyes.

1512, 2014

The Great Big Christmas Quiz 2

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Welcome to our second instalment of A Laugh Again Christmas Quiz. It’s time for you to put your Christmas IQ to the test. Quick, gather your friends and family around the radio and keep track of your score.

1. According to the Bible, Jacob Marley was:

a) The third wise man in the book of Hezekiah

b) The Innkeeper

c) Nowhere to be found

The answer is c) Nowhere to be found. If you got this wrong, go plunge your head into a snow bank.

 

2. Vixen, Santa’s only female reindeer, has antlers. How could this be?

a) The writer forgot that female deer have no antlers

b) Both male and female reindeer have antlers

c) Santa wanted Vixen to fit in, so he applied a set of artificial antlers to her head with a glue gun.

And the answer is b) Female Reindeer are the only type of deer with antlers. Let’s prance on to number 3.

 

3. In what movie did Bing Crosby first sing “White Christmas”?

a) Holiday Inn

b) Best Western

c) Die Hard

d) White Christmas

The answer is a) Holiday Inn. Soon after its release in 1941, the film became the highest grossing musical up until that time. I bet you didn’t know that.

 

4. In Matthew’s genealogy in the Bible how many women are mentioned?

a) Two

b) Five

c) Seven

The answer is b) Five. They are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Why not read one of their fascinating stories this Christmas? Let’s shuffle on to questions number

 

5. Which of these events did not occur on Christmas Day?

a) Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

b) Ebenezer Scrooge talked with the ghost of Jacob Marley

c) King Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone

And the answer is b). I know the tale of Scrooge and Marley is fictional, but their famous discussion happened on Christmas Eve. And our last question of the day:

Well, it’s time to tally your score. If you had 1-2 Correct: Good try. Take an aspirin and try this quiz again in the morning. If you scored 3: Not bad. You have potential. If you reached 4: Very good! Have an extra chocolate. If you got all 5 correct: Masterful! Brilliant! Genius! You can open all of your presents this year.

Aren’t you glad there won’t be a test like this when you reach heaven? We’ll be far too busy celebrating the child of the manger, our risen Saviour. “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Rejoice with me, and give thanks for the child in the manger this Christmas.

812, 2014

Be An Old Goat

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Five minutes from our house is a small zoo with lions and tigers and skunks and fainting goats. My friend Gord took his granddaughter there and sent me a picture of her holding a baby cougar. Then he saw the goats. In front of them was a sign, “Goats faint when startled.” For Gord this sounded like an invitation. He stepped toward the goats and yelled, “Boo!” They just stared at him. But if he had been louder about it, the animals would have succumbed to something called myotonia congenita, the technical term for keeling over each time there’s a loud noise.

Footage of these fainting goats is very popular on the Internet. Younger goats are more prone to tumble when startled; older goats manage to live with it, to tame their fears, and startle less easily. But goats are not the only creatures that faint from fear. During a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her boy into bed. When she turned off the light he asked, “Mommy, will you stay with me tonight?” She gave him a hug and said, “No sweetie I can’t. I have to sleep with Daddy.” The little boy said in a shaky voice, “Daddy. The big baby!”

As a kid I had Ablutophobia. That’s fear of taking a bath. I was so skinny I had Spectrophobia. That’s the fear of looking at one’s own reflection in a mirror. People in our Baptist church had Chorophobia. That’s the fear of dancing. Thirty years ago the top fears of school children were: animals, being in a dark room, high places, strangers, loud noises. Today, kids are afraid of the following: divorce, terrorism, cancer, pollution, being mugged. Recently a friend confided in me that he has been focusing on his fears and that his joy is gone. He listed some of them, then asked, “What do I do?”

Well, I certainly don’t have complete victory in the fear department. But I told him where I went when my wife’s health had failed and I thought I was going to lose her, I found comfort in the writings of a man who knew terror on every side and told us what to do about it. When David writes about fear in the Psalms, the overwhelming message is this: Seek God. Psalm 27:8, “When you said, Seek my face; my heart said to you, your face, Lord, will I seek.” When we seek our own safety, we find fear. But faith and truth are oils that bring healing and peace as we focus on the one who promises to never leave us.

Whatever you’re up against today, I pray that you’ll learn seek God above all else. I never thought I’d say this about goats, but when it comes to the fainting kind, we need to be a little more like an old goat.

112, 2014

Four Questions for Animal Lovers

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I like human beings. I happen to be married to one, I’m the father of three more, and they are wonderful creatures. But I’ll be honest, there are times I prefer the company of animals. Like the 7-pound fur ball that licks peanut butter off my fingers each morning. So in honour of the critters that make us grin and laugh out loud, we’ve put together the very first Laugh Again Animal trivia quiz. Give yourself a point for each correct answer.

1) If the following animals were to compete in a race, which would win?
a) Horse
b) Ostrich
c) Gerbil
Answer? Ostriches and horses run at nearly the same speed. Both can maintain a pace of close to 50 km per hour / that’s 30 miles an hour. So give yourself a point if you picked either horse or ostrich. The gerbil is still chewing on a tuft of grass near the starting blocks.

2) What do you call a group of flamingos?
a) A flamboyance
b) A fluffle
c) A flirtation
d) A prickle
Answer: Flamboyance. A fluffle is a group of rabbits, a prickle refers to porcupines. A flirtation is a group of teenagers.

3) How does a male Gentoo penguin propose to his potential lifetime mate?
a) By draping seaweed over her shoulders
b) By singing a Willie Nelson song
c) By presenting them with a pebble
d) By having the words “will you marry me?” displayed on a Jumbotron.
The correct answer is b) Singing a Willie Nelson song. Ok, I’m pulling your leg, it’s c). When a male Gentoo penguin falls beak over tail for a female, he selects smoothest pebble he can find and places it at her feet. If she accepts, she places the pebble in her nest and the two begin to send out invitations.

4) Which of the following statements are true?
a) Houseflies always hum in the key of F
b) Norway recently knighted a penguin. His name is Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav.
c) Turtles can breathe through their posteriors. (If you don’t know what this is ask your mother.)

If you picked any of these answers, you’re correct. Well done. How did you do? If you got 27 points, you cheated. But if you had 3 of 4 right, congratulations, you win a free subscription to Laugh Again AudioMail. Worth an estimated value of 112 pesos. Subscribe on our Laugh Again homepage.

You know, God loves animals too. After all, He came up with these amazing creatures. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that, “not even one sparrow will fall to the ground outside of our Father’s care…so don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” You are loved. You’re in God’s care today. So trust Him. And if you need a good laugh, find a dog and feed it peanut butter. Or find a friend and sing them a Willie Nelson song.