When I was a college student, our beloved professor Clifton Inman related a true story about joy in homes. A Christian man was seeking help in addressing his difficulties in life. He had no happiness; he had no joy. His own conclusion on the matter related to his own childhood as the son of a grim father. He described the problem to brother Inman like this: "My Dad never whistled." The whistling or lack thereof was not the problem. In his mind, the silence was a symptom of a joyless home.
My Dad never whistled either, but only because he couldn't whistle! On occasion he would try, but only if we begged long and hard, and maybe even if we promised not to laugh at him. I guess he knew the promises were in jest, because only a fool trusts a giggled promise. So after tormenting and tantalizing us, he would indulge us by puckering up, twisting his face into his famous "gopher face," and producing a sound similar to a gas leak. On several long, boring car trips, we laughed ourselves silly together. I know some sad folks who think that it was wasted time. It wasn't. That 1967 Mercury station wagon is long gone, and now Dad is; but I can still hear the laughter. It didn't die. What a burden it must be to have a Dad who has nothing about which to whistle.
Dad never whistled, but he sang funny songs, pulled funny pranks, and told funny jokes until the day he died. Nobody ever laughed harder than he did, especially at his own jokes; Dad never really mastered the dead pan delivery. My friends loved Dad, even though my home was a scary place. This was because Dad would often be lurking in some closet preparing to leap out and scare us half to death. When Dad played games, he played at top speed, and nothing pleased him more than beating us youngsters who were, as he put it, "not smart enough to beat me!" Fortunately, we knew nothing of psychology, so we were not emotionally scarred. Until the day Dad died, Robin and I would provoke him until he chased us, threatening to whip us. Some might say, "I can't believe a gospel preacher would carry on so." I thank God that Dad didn't agree.
I believe in joy. I believe in the joy of Christianity, the joy of a faithful congregation, and the joy in a Christian home. I believe in the pure joy of living because God believes in it. In Philippians 4:4 the apostle Paul wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" He meant it. I have known Christians and congregations who seemed to be suspicious of joy. They seem to equate joylessness with reverence. God through Paul commanded both joy and sobriety. 1 Thessalonians 5:6, "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." There is no tension between these great Bible truths because sobriety is not the opposite of joy at all. Neither is happiness the opposite of reverence, as some seem to think.
Is too much joy dangerously close to irreverence? Consider Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." If happiness leads to irreverence, why does the apostle classify joy as a quality that cannot be limited and rationed? I'm not advocating any hint of the unauthorized activities that are so common today. You see, just as joy is not the opposite of sobriety, it also does not originate with self indulgence. I am advocating joy, happiness, and, yes, even laughter, as we do those things that God commanded us to do. To ignore what God says about joy is just as sinful as any other exercise in self justification.
Now, more than ever before, I understand the urgency of painting joyous memories. People have told me such wonderful things since Dad died. They have spoken of his razor sharp mind, his thorough knowledge of scripture, and his skill as a preacher; but it was eleven years ago that Dad received one of his greatest compliments. A St. Marys resident, not a member of the Lord's church, was attending our Bert Thompson apologetics seminar. The fellow is a musician, and he and Dad were acquainted. He asked me about Dad's health and then commented, "I believe your Dad is the most jovial man I've ever met." I am certain there are some false teachers and church bosses who disagree! But I considered his compliment high praise for any Christian. It helps me to remember all of the joy ... punctuated by a sound like gas leaking from a pipe. -704 Dewey Avenue, St. Marys, WV 26170.
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