Is Anybody Up There?


A man was hiking on a large mountain when suddenly he lost his footing, tripped, and went stumbling off the side of a steep cliff. Luckily, he had the presence of mind to reach out and grab a branch half way down. Clutching his branch, he looked down at the jagged rocks below and then at the impossibly steep cliff above. Not knowing what else to do, he looked up at the sky and cried with all his might’ “Is anybody up there?”

Suddenly some clouds parted, revealing a bright shaft of light, and a deep thundering voice sounded from heaven, saying, “It is I, God! You must have faith my child. Let go of the branch and I will catch you.”

The man thinks for a second, looks up at the sky, and cries, “Is there a body else up there?”

This funny little parable has a serious message. Faith is casting your lot entirely with God, no matter what. There is no plan B. The life of faith is letting go when it is not clear that we will be caught. If we knew how everything would work out, it would take no faith. The saying may seem trite but it’s also true: there comes a time in which we must let go and let God. Sometimes it is when we are at our most desperate, not knowing where else to turn that we finally look to heaven. What would our lives look like if we didn’t wait until we were hanging off the side of a cliff to ask, “Is anybody up there?”

The Head Hog


“I’d like to speak to the head hog at the trough!”

“I beg your pardon?” replied the Church secretary, unsure if she had heard the voice on the other line correctly.

“I’d like to speak to the head hog at the trough,” said the voice again.

“Well, if you’re referring to the Pastor,” she said indignantly, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to address him with the respect he deserves. You may refer to him as ‘Reverend Jeff’, ‘Pastor Jeff’, or even ‘Brother Jeff’ but certainly we would never refer to a man of God as ‘the head hog at the trough’.”

“Well, I was wanting to give $100,000.00 to the Church budget,” the stranger said.

“Hold on just a second,” the Secretary replied, “I think I hear him oinking in the next room.”

“Where your treasure lies,” Jesus taught his disciples, “their your heart lies also.” A more jaded commenter might say, “everybody has a price.” This joke challenges all of us to think about how much our principles are worth to us. Proverbs says that wisdom is more precious than silver and more costly than gold. Too many people would rather have the gold than be wise. As disciples walking in the way of Jesus, we are called to fix our eyes on Christ. We can’t do this if our head is down in the trough.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Acts 2:38


Returning from Bible study one evening, an elderly woman was surprised to find a burglar in her living room holding a burlap sack filled with her belongings. Not knowing what else to do, the woman recalled the Bible verse they had been discussing earlier at Church. It was Acts 2:38 which says: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so your sins will be forgiven.” So she called out to the burglar, “Acts 2:38!”

The burglar looked up startled with wide eyes. Feeling that she had struck a nerve, the woman repeated, louder and more forcefully this time, “Acts 2:38!”

The man’s hands began to shake and he dropped the sack at his feet, slowly backing toward the door. By this point the woman could tell that she had really convicted the burglar so, emboldened, she cried out at the top of her voice, “Acts 2:38!”

With that, the burglar ran out the door and jumped into his getaway car without touching the ground the whole way. “Drive! Drive!” He yelled to his partner as soon as he was in the vehicle. As they peeled off, the partner saw that the burglar was white as a ghost.

“What in the world happened in there?” he asked.

“I’m never working this street again. I thought I was alone in that house then suddenly there was this crazy old broad in the living room screaming at me that she had an axe and two .38s!”

Some of the funniest jokes are based on miscommunication. When the speaker is saying one thing but the hearer is picking up something else, hilarity can ensue. Abbot and Costello made a career of this kind of humor. But it is important to ask ourselves whether we are fundamentally miscommunicating with the world around us. Those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus have been called to share the good news of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness and yet that good news is often translated into bad news by the hearer. We’re miscommunicating. Often we blame this on the hearer. We deride them and say they are rejecting the truth when really the fault lies with us. We’ve run them off instead of letting them in. Jesus came into this world not to condemn the world but to save it through Himself. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. This is the Gospel. Everything else is noise in the way of good news.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Walk Out


Once a new Pastor decided after much prayer to preach a dicey sermon on a hot button issue. He felt really led to speak on the topic but he didn’t want to offend anyone in the congregation so he spent the entire evening before crafting his language to make sure he worded his position in a way that might be least offensive to the parties involved. He also made sure he pulled every scripture he could think of to support his position so there could be no doubt that his sermon was Biblical. Furthermore, he peppered the entire sermon with quotes from contemporary theologians as well as the great Christian thinkers of antiquity. When the young pastor went to bed, he felt good about the sermon he had prepared.

Sunday morning, however, his nerves were getting the best of him and he was really second guessing himself. He had only been the Pastor of this congregation for a few months and he really didn’t know what side they would come down on. When the time came to preach, though, the Pastor powered through. As he spoke, he gained his footing and started to feel more and more at ease. Until, halfway through the sermon, a man named Frank abruptly stood up, left his pew, and marched straight down the center aisle and out the door. Frank was one of the pillars of the Church, a man whose opinion everybody respected, so the Pastor was nervous and flustered through the rest of the entire sermon.

After Church was over, the pastor stood at the back door and shook hands with members of the congregation as they left. Each one politely told him it was a good service and went to their cars.  At last, Frank’s wife came through the line and shook the Pastor’s hand. Pale, and hardly able to speak, the pastor managed to get out, “I hope I didn’t say anything to offend your husband.”

The woman smiled and said, “Oh dear. No one must have told you. Frank has been a sleep walker ever since he was a boy.”  

This is a funny joke but it contains a serious question for us to ponder: are we ever so worried about offending people that we put them to sleep? Those of us in ministry are always caught between wanting to challenge the faithful and wanting to promote unity. Being decisive without being divisive. I personally think this is a healthy tension and that one can be pulled too far in either direction but there does come a time when we are called to clearly and forcefully state the truth. If we spend all our time worrying about how every little thing we say may be perceived, we risk making sleepwalkers instead of disciples. 

Majority Rules…


Rabbi Eliezer was famous for his extraordinary powers of persuasion. One day, he was arguing his theological position in front of a group of 10 sages. After Rabbi Eliezer had finished making what he had felt was a logically airtight argument, complete with many eloquent rhetorical flourishes and an overall sense of Holiness, he was satisfied the sages would agree with him. He had shown a mastery of scripture, appealed to all the great Rabbinical traditions, and had brought in the world’s great philosophers to bolster his case. All that was left was for the sages to vote. Eliezer was shocked when, after the vote, all ten sages rejected his position.

“I’m sorry Eliezer, it is 10 to 1. Majority rules and your position has been rejected.”

Rabbi Eliezer was dumbfounded that his great logic and rhetoric had not changed any minds, but he resolved to use more powerful means of persuasion. He said, “If I am correct, let this fig tree uproot itself and move to the other side of the yard.”

No sooner had the rabbi said this than the fig tree miraculously uprooted itself and moved to the other side of the yard. However, the sages were unmoved.

“No proof can be found in a fig tree,” they said.

“Fine…,” said Rabbi Eliezer, “If I am correct, let this stream we are standing by flow backward!”

No sooner had the Rabbi said this than the stream that they were all standing by began to flow in the other direction. However, the sages were still unpersuaded.

“No proof can be found in a stream,” they said.

Undeterred, Rabbi Eliezer bellowed in a commanding voice, “If my argument is correct, let God, Himself, say so…”

Suddenly, the clouds parted and a great shaft of light fell on the rabbi and the ten sages, and a voice, ancient and eternal, sounding like thunder and many rushing waters said, “My servant Eliezer is correct, listen to him!”

“Alright, Eliezer,” said the sages, “Now it’s 10 to 2…”

This humorous Jewish parable illustrates a profound truth: some people will never ever change their minds. Many times we expend a great deal of time and energy trying to win over people who are just not going to be won over. Disciples are of course called to share their faith and try to persuade others to trust in God but sadly some people will never be moved no matter what you say or do. In these cases we must pray that God will do in their hearts what we cannot, and then move on. Jesus, himself, could not convince his critics that his vision of God’s Kingdom was the right one. He was often frustrated with those who were hard hearted and stiff necked. Jesus focused on offering love and healing and sharing the good news with those whose hearts were opened to it. May the way of Jesus be our way as well.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Diagnosis


After complaining about a severe headache for weeks, a man finally goes to the doctor. The doctor looks him up and down and can’t find anything wrong with him.

“Are you getting enough sleep?”, the doctor asks, “sometimes staying out too late and not getting the proper sleep can cause headaches.”

The man said, “Yes. In fact, I’m in bed by 8pm every night, just after I’ve said my prayers.”

“Do you smoke?”

“Certainly not. I would never put such filth into my body. My body is a temple of The Lord!”

“Are you a heavy drinker?”

“I resent the accusation! Why I’ve never touched the poison!”

“I apologize”, said the doctor, “It’s just my job to ask… how many partners have you had in the past year?”

“I’ll have you know I’ve remained celibate my entire life, thank you very much! I don’t even allow myself to think of such temptations!”

The doctor scratched his head for just a second then asked, “Where does your head hurt exactly?”

The man pointed to the areas that were causing him trouble and the doctor nodded knowingly. “It’s just as I suspected,” said the doctor, “your halo is on too tight!”

Is your halo on too tight? I fist encountered this humorous parable in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. When our religion makes us joyless and prone to hold others in contempt, you could say our halo is on too tight. When we Methodists celebrate holy communion we say a prayer of confession in which we confess our sins to God. The prayer ends with the line: “free us for joyful obedience in Christ out Lord.” For the disciple, obedience is a joyful response to the grace that has been extended to us for our failings. If our obedience is not joyful, then we aren’t doing it right. Too often Christians are known for what we are against rather than what we are for. We’re known for being judgmental rather than graceful. We look more like modern day Pharisees than Jesus. Perhaps it is time to loosen our halos and extend a little love.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Squirrel


A pastor called the children of the church down to the front to join him for a special Children’s Sermon. In his hand, he held a photograph of a squirrel he had printed off of the computer. He had in mind to teach a lesson on “responsibility” using the furry rodent who stows away nuts as an example. When the kids were all seated in front of him, he held the photo close to his chest and said, “I have a picture here and I want you to guess what it is before I show it to you. I’ll give you some clues and see if you can figure out what it is.”

The kids all smiled and the pastor continued:

“The thing I have is gray and it has a big bushy tail…”

The pastor was just sure he’d see some hands shoot up immediately but the kids were all silent. So he kept going:

“This thing has little buck teeth and really likes to eat acorns…”

Still no hands were raised. In fact, most of the kids looked confused.

“It’s small and loves to climb trees…”

Nothing. Just blank stares and heads turned sideways.

“Does nobody want to guess?” the Pastor asked. “I think I gave you all the hints you need…”

Finally a little girl in the back raised her hand tentatively. Relieved, the pastor immediately called on her. The girl looked down at her lap as she spoke.

“Pastor, I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus but it sounds an awful lot like a squirrel to me.”

There is actually a profound challenge hidden in this humorous little story. How many times do people come to our churches expecting to hear about Jesus and leave confused that we seemed to be talking about everything but? I’m always struck by the polls conducted every four years around election time. While pastors on the left and the right clamor for the right to endorse candidates from the pulpit, polls overwhelmingly and consistently show that’s not what the people in the pews want. If I had to guess, they’d rather hear about Jesus. We who communicate love to chase squirrels, sharing our opinions on the great issues of the day, but we serve people who are hungry for the timeless truth of the Gospel. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to fix their eyes upon him and not look back. We are called to preach Christ and Christ crucified. We are called to seek first the Kingdom of God. Everything else is… well… you can guess.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…