I remember a fun 'n' games night around the supper table in our house. It was wild. First of all, one of the kids snickered during the prayer (which isn't that unusual) and that tipped the first domino. Then a humorous incident from school was shared and the event (as well as how it was told) triggered havoc around the table. That was the beginning of twenty to thirty minutes of the loudest, silliest, most enjoyable laughter you can imagine. At one point I watched my oldest literally fall off his chair in hysterics, my youngest doubled over in his chair as his face wound up in his plate with corn chips stuck to his cheeks . . . and my two girls leaning back, lost and preoccupied in the most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity: laughter.

What is so amazing is that everything seemed far less serious and heavy. Irritability and impatience were ignored like unwanted guests. For example, during the meal little Chuck spilled his drink twice . . . and even that brought the house down. If I remember correctly, that made six times during the day he accidentally spilled his drink, but nobody bothered to count.

All is quiet now, a rather unusual phenomenon around here. It's almost midnight and although my bones are weary, I'm filled and thrilled with the most pleasant memories a father can enjoy-a healthy, happy, laughing family. What a treasure! The load that often weighs heavily upon my shoulders about this time each week seems light and insignificant now. Laughter, the needed friend, has paid another dividend.

If you ask me, I think it is often just as sacred to laugh as it is to pray . . . or preach . . . or witness. But then-laughter is a witness in many ways. We have been misled by a twisted, unbalanced mind if we have come to think of laughter and fun as being carnal or even questionable. This is one of Satan's sharpest darts and from the looks and long lines on our faces, some of us have been punctured too many times. Pathetic indeed is the stern, somber Christian who has developed the look of an old basset hound through long hours of practice in restraining humor and squelching laughs.

Looking stern and severe is nothing new. The frowning fraternity of the sour set got started in the first century. Its charter members were a scowling band of religious stuffed shirts called Pharisees. I hardly need to remind you that Jesus' strongest words were directed at them. Their super-serious, ritually rigid lifestyle nauseated our Lord. This brings me to a related point of contention I have with artists who portray Jesus Christ perpetually somber, often depressed. You simply cannot convince me that during thirty-three years as a carpenter and discipler of the Twelve He never enjoyed a long, side-splitting laugh. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a few pictures of Jesus leaning back with His companions, thoroughly enjoying a few minutes of fun with them? Surely that isn't heresy!

Picture in your mind Martin Luther, the Reformer. What do you see? A stern-faced, steel-jawed, frowning fighter with his German fist clenched and raised against wrong? Wrong!

P> Several of his biographers inform us that he abounded in an unguarded, transparent sincerity . . . plain and pleasant honesty . . . playful humor and mirth. Small wonder he attracted the oppressed, browbeaten people of his day like flies to honey. The reformer, you see, wasn't afraid to laugh. In one word, surprising though it may seem, Luther was winsome.

Let's try another famous name: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great preacher of London. What do you see? A sober, stoop-shouldered pastor who dragged the weight of sinful England around with a rope? Try again!

Spurgeon was a character. His style was so loose he was criticized again and again for bordering on frivolity in the Tabernacle pulpit. Certain incensed fellow clergymen railed against his habit of introducing humor into his sermons. With a twinkle in his eye, he once replied:

"If only you knew how much I hold back, you would commend me. . . . This preacher thinks it less a crime to cause a momentary laughter than a half-hour of profound slumber."
Spurgeon dearly loved life. His favorite sound was laughter-and frequently he leaned back in the pulpit and roared aloud over something that struck him funny. He infected people with cheer germs. Those who caught the disease found their load lighter and their Christianity brighter. Like Luther, Spurgeon was winsome. Winsomeness. That tasteful, appealing, ultra-magnetic quality . . . that charisma . . . that ability to cause joy and genuine pleasure in the thick of it all. When a teacher has it, students line up for the course. When a dentist or physician has it, his practice stays full. When a salesman has it, he gets writer's cramp filling out orders. When an usher has it, the church is considered friendly. When a college president has it, the public relations department has a downhill slide. When a coach has it, the team shows it. When a restaurant owner has it, the public knows it. When parents have it, kids grow it.