Gayle Erwin's Newsletter

March, April 1997 Newsletter


Humor is founded in childlikeness. When Jesus told us to humble ourselves as a child, his primary goal was the honest self-assessment that is the foundation of humility. That resultant humility points out our absurdity, our “poverty of spirit,” and frees us from arrogance and enables us to approach ourselves and others with the laughing freedom of a child.

But we have always been just a little reserved about the use of humor in the Church and properly so. Freud was correct in the area of humor. He stated that all humor is hostile. In other words, in order for a joke to be funny, it has to have a brunt, someone who is humiliated or made to suffer. There is truth to that. Just check all the jokes you know. Is there someone who is the humiliated object? Look at all the various types of “ethnic” category jokes: Aggie jokes, Italian jokes, moron jokes, Pollack jokes, Portagee jokes, van der Merwe jokes.

Though it is not politically correct to even print those names, every reader instantly knows what I am talking about. These are joke-types that I have heard around the world. Racial jokes of any type demand that someone be put down. This is all the reason we need in the church to be wary of how we use humor.

Most of you know that humor is a major part of my teaching. Maintaining consistency with the Nature of Jesus demands that I resolve the obvious disparity in the use of humor. I propose to do that with the following statements.

Humor At Its Worst

  1. Humor that is directed at others. Since humor's basic hostility is counter to the grace we wish to deliver to people, it is important that if anyone must be the brunt of humor, it should be the speaker/deliverer of the humor.

  2. Humor that depends only on joke telling. Joke telling is (as I indicated above) profoundly weakened by its hostility. Telling jokes is the realm of the “stand-up-comedian” and that realm has removed all limits on taste and control. Further, jokes rarely translate into other languages or cultures. I have seen translators with a pained look trying to rescue some American's joke. Fortunately, telling jokes is only one kind of humor. There are safer forms that are much more illustrative and appreciated.

  3. Humor that is off-color. I squirm with others when inappropriate humor enters the scene. People become uncomfortable and look furtively at each other wondering what to do. Never let humor discomfort people because of its color. An “idea” taught may discomfort people, but humor accompanying it must be a source of comfort and learning and not anxiety.

Humor At Its Best

  1. Humor that is “life-centered.” By taking normal life, seeing the humor, then expressing it, people learn while having fun. I rarely use humor just for humor's sake (though I think of funny things far more often than I can use them), instead I try to use humor as a handle and memory aid which I will discuss later.

  2. Humor that pours oil on troubled waters. I realized one day that the intensity of the message on the Nature of Jesus was such that if I did not deliver with the relief of humor, it would be too much for people to take. That which is overwhelming is made palatable by delivering with humor.

  3. Humor that serves as a memory aid. Because I do not tell jokes but instead relate the humor to a specific theme or thought I want people to remember, I discover that, indeed, it works. Because the material is so positively associated and the humor so integrated, that remembrance comes easy. Often I have people relate all the points of a teaching of mine that they heard ten years earlier because it was so easy for them to remember the relationships.

  4. Humor that is directed at ourselves. I have discovered several things about this method. First, when you are secure enough to be laughed at, it defuses people's resistance. Second, when people can laugh at you, they can then laugh with you. Third, to make yourself the brunt of the joke does not lessen you in the minds of people, instead they consider you to be a “safe” person.

  5. Humor that has acceptable forms. I have already mentioned “life-centered” humor. Out of childlikeness, another form of acceptable humor is “slapstick.” This is humor that comes from exaggerated bodily motion including facial expressions. Though it makes one look foolish, it does not actually translate as foolishness to a crowd. Humor can also be normal bodily motion in obviously funny situations. Children, as well as adults, readily respond to such humor. In fact, a properly humorous style that does not create anxiety in an audience is so well received by children that often churches release the children from Sunday School and bring them in to my teachings because they know the children will listen. I have also learned that when children are listening to you, everyone is listening to you.

Another acceptable form of humor is puns. Good word plays are subtle but are a compliment to an audience rather than a putdown. The weakness is that puns, like regular jokes, do not translate into other languages. Add physical motion and puns to life-centered humor and you can be wildly funny and profitable at the same time.

Obviously, the above statements do not exhaustively cover humor, but they express my basic standards. Humor, unfortunately, has become so infected by our culture and carnality that we must take it through an extensive ritual of purification before it becomes edifying. That purifying demands much thinking and examination and attitude adjustment, but the power of humor makes the trial worthwhile. In many ways, humor can be an expression of grace, that great “smile of God.” My prayer is that I will never turn it into a frown.


I think you taught it first and maybe better, but I still thought you would enjoy this from “The Greatest Moments” by Max Lucado.

Can I give you the down and dirty about legalism? Legalism doesn't need God. Legalism is the search for innocence, not forgiveness. It's a systematic process of defending self, explaining self, exalting self and justifying self. Legalists are obsessed with self, not God.

Turns my opinion into your burden. There is only room for one opinion in the boat. And guess who is wrong!

Turns my opinion into your boundary. Your opposing opinion makes me question not only your right to have fellowship with me, but also your salvation.

Turns my opinion into your obligation. Christians must toe the company line. Your job isn't to think, it's to march.”

I pray the new year is as exciting and blessed as you can stand.

Ken Armstrong
Bakersfield, CA

Thank you for the teaching on “Know the Will of God.” You taught that December 15 in Siegen, Germany. It has really impacted my thinking and my faith! What spoke to me the most was the illustration of Gloria shouting out from her bedroom for permission to get up, get dressed, come down, eat, etc. I realized that the Lord wants me to “be at home” in Him, because I AM IN HIM and He is WITH me. That means freedom (!) to live and move with confidence.

Joanie Dingman
Siegen, Germany

I love how Jesus uses the foolish things to confound the wise. One of my favorite spots on our Israel trip was Gideon's Spring and how God used the army of 300 (short, fat, bald, suspendered) people. I am very thankful that the Lord kept me low on the social statuses through junior high school and high school. Perhaps this kept me out of the drug and alcohol scene during that time. I told the Applegate staff during morning devotions about this whole part of the trip and that you said I was the most talented loser you had ever met. They all laughed and said nothing had changed, really, since high school.

Jereme Dittmer
Jacksonville, OR

An older couple in their eighties sent us the “Nature of Jesus” series and not knowing what it was, I filed it on the video shelf. One night, I was looking for something to take to the county jail Bible study, and I found this video again. It was an instant hit. The guys in jail won't let us watch anything else. The humor along with the simple reality of Jesus and his love, the down-home approach, makes it possible for simple folks to touch Him. And how we want to touch Him! He, who is like no other.

We have discovered a new joy in our lives through your video tapes and a better handle on what Jesus is all about. There is hope again in Kristi's and my hearts that we can do it—we can serve the Lord without getting kicked out of the kingdom or becoming complacent because we can't find a way to make Jesus' teachings real and implementable in our lives. We can't wait to share both these teachings and the new joy of the Lord with others. You've challenged us to keep it simple and learn the joy of serving.

Tony Steben
Port Townsend, WA

“You're Messin' with Me” would have been an appropriate title for the message you shared with us at the Worship Conference at Sandy Cove, MD. As you were speaking, I remembered the article you wrote a few years ago in Servant Quarters about worship. You addressed clearly the issue that worship leaders are to help people focus on God, that worship leaders are to simply help believers experience God in a way that honors Him and frees us to express our devotion to Him effectively. I wonder how well-received the message was.

It seems that in some cases, worship has become “slick” and professional rather than Holy Spirit inspired and God honoring. Perhaps I misread the response of some, but it seemed that many thought you were wrong in your assessment of current trends in worship services. And, it appeared that some at the conference may have even been offended by what you shared.

Gayle, I, as a pastor and worship leader, was not offended but was challenged, and the purpose of this letter is to encourage you to allow the Lord to continue to use you to challenge all of us who sincerely want to serve the Lord. Sometimes we need to be reminded in a loving way that people don't need to see our talents put on display. People only need to “behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.”

Geoff and Linda Brede
Rochester, NY

Your teachings and books have blessed me tremendously, but the real reason for this letter is to let you know that I used your (read: Jesus') teaching on the Nature of Jesus in a message which I posted in the “Fray” section of “Slate” on-line magazine. There is a “thread,” as they call it, on the “Fray” that discusses religion. Someone was questioning what reason the “Entity” has for “Its” (their words) creation, namely man.

I responded from a Christian point of view (I pray) and used the Nature of Jesus, as you have outlined it, as reason enough to compel one to believe that their life is worth living. I hope to point out from Romans 2:4 that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. As long as I am faithful to “The Jesus Style” I believe that my words will find their proper target—the hearts of men.

Brad Boyle
New Jersey

Thanks again for saying “I do” to Jesus when He asked you if you loved Him.
Thanks again for saying “I will” to Jesus when He asked you to go and share His message.
Thanks again for saying “Never” when others pressed you for something new.
Thanks again for saying “Press on” to young, growing pastors who were weary and feeling pressed in.
Thanks again for saying “Receive” as you came to serve and give.
Thanks again for
Staying with the work.
Being steadfast in the work.
Looking to Him beyond the work.

You have been His vessel to pour Himself on this clay that I too may be worked with His hands into a vessel of honor.

Because you abide, I have tasted much fruit.

Tom Blumberg
Bellingham, WA

Thank God for your heart-warming, ear-catching, thought-provoking ministry. My daughter's family and I listen to you on KAPL. When you spoke last summer at Applegate Christian Fellowship, we made certain our husbands attended and invited a few friends as well. Even my 7-year-old pleaded with me to let him stay for your message rather than be dismissed for Sunday School class. He calls you a comedian.

My husband's usual stance concerning his attending church is one of lead-footed resistance; however, the perpetual smile he had during the service spoke volumes. Of course, I made certain not to let him know I noticed this smile until after service.

May you be unwearied in the Lord's work.

A Friend

I have read your newsletters, chuckled and cried. I have listened to you in person—met you, in fact. It has been wonderful to read your books and listen to your tapes (not all of them, yet), but recently I received a tape from my pastor of a worship conference held in San Diego a year or two ago.

It is amazing how God provides just the lift, just the strength and just the sustenance required in our time of need. It was as if a close friend had talked to you (that would be the Holy Spirit) and filled you in on the intimate details of my most recent struggles. You put your finger on my heart and initiated the beginnings of surrender.

Steve Krein
Mt. Vernon, WA


Jake was as mean as they come. He was a logger whose favorite sport when he had a bit of alcohol in his system was to go to a little local church and beat up the deacons. Jake's meanness was only exceeded by his ugliness. He had only one tooth in the front of his mouth and his smiles were not the sort of thing you would seek.

I would have had no reason to ever meet Jake except for one most unusual reason. My father, who had been severely injured in an accident when I was six years old, was attempting to return to ministry by teaching for a week at this tiny church in this logging community. To find a place for all of us to stay, I had to go and stay at the home of a faithful church-going lady who had a son my age. The house sat near the top of a small wooded hill. Water was achieved by walking about 200 yards down the hill to a spring and carrying it up to the house. The husband of the house was Jake. I was in enemy territory. The whole family lived in constant terror that they might set Jake off in a furious and violent tirade. We all walked on eggshells. I almost enjoyed going after water. At least you could relax when you were away from the house.

One day my friend and I had to carry a lot of water because it was washing day and I watched as the large black pot of water was heated up by a wood fire outside so clothes could be scrubbed on an old “scrub board” and hung out to dry. It was hard work but it was life and no other alternatives presented themselves.

Like yesterday, I can remember the Wednesday night when Jake showed up at church. Nervousness skittered across the crowd. Was Jake drunk? Was he going to beat someone up? Why was Jake even here? He never comes to church except to beat someone up. But this was Jake's night. At the invitation, Jake stood and made his way down front to kneel. No one could believe it. They wondered if this was a new trick of Jake's.

The next night, Jake was back. The place was still in shock. At the midpoint of the service, my father asked if anyone wanted to report on what God was doing in their lives. Jake stood up and said, “I have something to say.” I could tell that he would be permitted to say anything he wanted.

“Last night when I came here, I hated you people.” Heads nodded in recognition of that fact. “But something happened to me and I don't understand this, but tonight I love you.” He smiled and the one ugly tooth had somehow become beautiful. Even at the tender age of seven, I knew that Jake had the goods. I knew it too in the home I was staying in. Joy reigned. Salvation does that!

Other events have happened in my life that I have come to call “Jake moments.” I had finished a message on a Sunday morning in a church in a small suburb community in a rural area of Southern California. The invitation was being issued by the pastor. I sat and watched. Suddenly a man midway back in the congregation slowly stood up. He stood there for just a second and his wife sitting next to him shot up, wrapped her arms around him and began to sob. I knew at that moment that a home had been restored. Joy would now reign. I wept. And remembered Jake.

Another moment happened in Philadelphia, just like it had happened years earlier in a small South Dakota town I was in. At the close of a men's retreat, I was watching as God was “doing His thing” in the hearts of the men during a communion service, when I spotted a man coming toward me whose feet seemed not to be touching the ground as he bounded along his face locked in a maximum smile. His story made it clear. “Tonight, my father became a Christian and for the first time, I heard him say ‘I love you' to me.”

In the Dakotas, I watched as a high school teenager, newly in the kingdom, was hugged by his father, also new in the kingdom, for the first time in his life. They both were sobbing like babies. Another Jake moment.

I just put down a letter from a young lady in Washington state thanking me for the fact that her grandfather had accepted the Lord in a service I led. Her grandfather, whom she loved dearly, had resisted following the Lord until that moment and he said that I made it so clear. Now he had passed away and the family was ecstatic that he knew the Lord. Jake, you didn't know what you started.

The sermon had concluded at Ft. Lauderdale. The worship team was playing and the pastor had invited those who wanted to become Christians to come forward. I stood slightly to his side and watched. I noticed an old man making his way down toward the front. That is unusual enough to catch my attention. He wasted no time and rather than stand waiting for instructions to go to a prayer room, he fell on his knees at the steps of the platform. I was moved by that and wondered what was going on in his heart. I should have watched for two hearts. A form moved by me on the platform, almost unnoticed until I saw him kneel beside the old man. It was George, one of the worship musicians and that was his dad who had come forward. He had prayed for him for a long time and now the fruit knelt father and son beside each other. A Jake moment.

Shortly before my 21st birthday, I conducted a week of meetings in my old home church in Chester, Oklahoma.

In that community lived a farmer known for his hostility to Christianity. His wife was a strong and faithful Christian who loved to be involved in the church and her husband despised every moment of it.

If he spotted her car on the road, he would jump in his pickup and leave his field to chase her. He would stop her car and search it to make sure she wasn't taking food or some other form of gift to the church. But the meaner he got, the nicer she treated him.

I knew him and was most shocked to see him come to one of the evening services I was teaching at. At the close, in response to the invitation, he made his was quickly forward and knelt. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Afterward, I asked him what I said that had moved him to come forward. He assured me it wasn't anything I said. He only wanted me to hurry up and quit so he could get saved. He told me that he could not stand it any more. He had made life a hell for his wife and the worse he got the better she got. He decided that he had to have what she had.

Another Jake.