Monday, March 04, 2013

Have You Heard The One About . . . . ?

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones. — Proverbs 17:22 (NASB95)
Robert Provine of the University of Maryland has found that people are thirty times more likely to laugh when they are with other people than when they are alone. When people are in bonding situations, laughter flows. Surprisingly, people who are speaking are 46 percent more likely to laugh during conversations than people who are listening. And they're not exactly laughing at hilarious punch lines. Only 15 percent of the sentences that trigger laughter are funny in any way that is discernible. Instead, laughter seems to bubble up spontaneously amidst conversations when people feel themselves responding in parallel ways to the same emotionally positive circumstances.
Even the seemingly mundane parts of humanity, like laughter, show how we've been hardwired by God to love and enjoy relationships. – David Brooks, The Social Animal (Random House, 2011), page 42

I love humor! I’m a sucker for a new joke or funny story. I often share the ones I hear or read with my preacher friends because I know the value of a good joke or story as a sermon illustration.

A fellow preacher once told me that he moved to a new church to be the minister and his first Sunday there one of his elders took him aside and said, “There will be no jokes in the pulpit.” Now you just need to think about this one a minute and you’ll see why my friend had a hard time not cracking up!

Yes, some humor can hurt people, some is raucous and dirty, and some is just plain wacky. But there is also a lot of good, healthy humor in the world. Someone once said that the ability to laugh at oneself is, perhaps, the greatest promoter of sanity in the world. Maybe so!

Not everybody wakes up ever day looking for a laugh. Many are wrestling with problems and situations that frighten them and make them want to hide. Stress, disappointment, and traumas add up to a weight many of us can’t imagine. Laughter may be the last thing those people find interesting. We need to be sensitive to people in pain.

A joke might not even be appropriate for some people, given what they’re trying to deal with. That said, let me urge you to look for the humor in life. On the average day, most of us would do well to experience a belly laugh or two. Look for the humor around you. There’s more than you might expect. And if you hear a good one, tell it to me!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Sentence

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. — Genesis 1:26–27 (NASB95)
Harvard psychologist and researcher Daniel Gilbert opens his best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness with what he calls "The Sentence." "The Sentence" begins with these eight words: "The human is the only animal that …." Gilbert argues that every professor needs to finish that sentence. – Adapted from Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (PublicAffairs, 2012), pp. 120-123
What a fantastic idea proposed by Daniel Gilbert. Wouldn’t if be fascinating to hear how every professor would finish that sentence? And if professors should answer it, how much more so should preachers answer it?

Gilbert implies that there are a multitude of ways to answer “the question.” If not, I think he would have suggested that the philosophy professor answer it, or the psychologist, or maybe the sociologist, or another. I’m not sure how professors in the various fields might finish the sentence. Perhaps different professors in the same field of study would answer differently.

The same might be true of preachers. I can think of at least a few ways to complete the sentence that would be both true and interesting to consider. But one stands out, and even it might be expressed in different ways.

Here’s how Daniel Gilbert finished the sentence:
The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future ….
[Human beings] think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple … ordinary act is the defining feature of our humanity.

How would a preacher finish “the question?” Well, here’s one of my suggestions: “The human being is the only animal that was made in the image of God.” I think everything else one could say about human beings flows from that truth.

It’s the reason that sin matters (for example), and that redemption matters, too. God’s eternal purpose and plan for human beings is contained in that germ of truth. Everything that can be said of mankind is about men and women made in the image of God.