Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April Fools!

I learned this week that the best time to play an April Fools joke is not on April 1. Everybody sees it coming. Everybody’s a skeptic on April 1. “Your shoe’s untied.” On 364 days of the year you’re going to check, but on April 1, you just scoff at the remark on move on. Your wife calls and says, “Now don’t lose it, honey, but I just backed into a pole at work and put a big dent in the fender.” On 364 days of the year, your temperature might rise, but on April 1 you just play along. Or maybe you get a message at work that says, “Call Mr. Lyon or Mr. Baer at 555-1212.” You know when you call the number, the voice on the other end is going to say, “Little Rock Zoo.” Ha, ha, ha. On April 1 everybody’s either a clown or a skeptic. God help the woman who finds out she’s pregnant on that day. Who’s going to believe her when she makes the big announcement? If you want to play an April Fools joke on somebody, wait a few days.

That’s what Ken did to me. Here’s the deal: some folks in our city held a This Is Your Life party for Jerry, a man I dearly love. He just retired from the work he did in behalf of our community. People wanted to express their appreciation so they threw him a party and gathered various people from his past and present to make roast and toast presentations. I was one of the presenters. The thing was supposed to begin at 7:00 that evening. I figured it would take an hour, hour-and-a-half at the outside. Wrong! It didn’t even crank up till almost 7:30. There were a lot of presenters. There was an intermission. My part was on the backside of the intermission. It was after 9:00 before I did my thing, and there were still several more presenters on the program. Hamlet had his question; I had mine: "To stay or not to stay?” And in my mind I did my own soliloquy: "Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of bugging out before it’s over, thus risking hurt feelings and looking bad … or to get the heck out of there so I could eat some supper and watch the end of Butler vs. Duke. To stay, perchance to leave … sitting through more presenters for another hour or enjoying basketball and food? The conscience does make cowards of us all."

But I screwed up my courage and left anyway. I felt pretty guilty about it on the drive home, and that guilt lasted about as long as it took me to make a very berry smoothie and half a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Once I sat down with my food to watch the basketball game, I forgot about my guilt.

But I forgot something else too. I had turned off my phone before I made my presentation and forgot to turn it back on when I was done. In fact, I didn’t turn it back on till the next morning as I was heading to my 6:30 men’s group. And soon as I turned it on, a text message popped up. It was from Ken. He, too, had attended the roast and toast event the night before. This was his message: “Well, it’s over. They made a group picture of the presenters, and you missed it.” Huh? They did what? My heart sunk. I had let down Jerry. I imagined him happily surrounded by all the presenters and then noticing my absence. “John? Where’s John? Anybody seen John? You know, my pastor. Did he not stay to the end?” Ouch! I can be so self-centered sometimes—so me-first. So I spent the drive to my men’s group that morning berating myself, thinking about how I probably hurt my friend’s feelings, how it made me look bad and selfish, and how I would word my apology to Jerry when I saw him later that day. To make matters worse some of our discussion in the men’s group dealt with self-centeredness. And I don’t know why I did it, but I made a confession to the group of my selfish sin from the night before.

When the group was over, I called my wife: “Well, I’m a first-class jerk,” I told her (not the first time she’s heard that confession). I told her about Ken's text message, about missing the group picture. “You didn’t!” she said.

“I did.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ll apologize (maybe rationalize is a better word). I’ll tell him I hadn’t had supper and that I wanted to watch the end of the basketball game. And that if I had it to do over again, I’d certainly stay. And if I’d known there was going to be a group picture I wouldn’t have even thought about leaving early.” I couldn't see her, but I could feel her shaking her head on the other end of the phone.

I was feeling pretty low when about an hour later, I ran into Ken, the friend who had sent me the text. “Ken,” I said. “Man, I didn’t turn my phone back on till this morning and I just got your text. I can’t believe I missed the group picture.”

He grinned like a Cheshire cat. “You didn’t miss anything. I was just pulling your chain for leaving early.”

Hook, line, and sinker! Pranked. Punked. Had but good. And this time: glad of it! If he had tried that on April 1, I would have been a skeptic, wouldn’t have believed him. But on April 5—hook, line, and sinker. I was an April fool.

This little experience got me to thinking about what the Bible has to say about fools. It says quite a bit actually—especially in the wisdom literature, most of all in Proverbs. I’m not very good at math but I think I counted 43 times in Proverbs where the author talks about fools. It’s not a pretty picture. Here's a quick summary: fools find pleasure in evil; they have diarrhea of the mouth; they’re short-tempered; they spurn daddy’s discipline and refuse to take advice; they exalt self; they don’t learn from their mistakes; they’re really bad with money; and they love to share their own opinion on pretty much everything. Fools are servants to the wise, and the only time anyone thinks them wise is when they shut their big fat mouths. Hardly a flattering portrait, huh?

The Psalms mention the fool a few times too. In both Psalm 14 and 53 we learn that “the fool says in his heart that there is no God.” When everything in nature and even your own conscience screams “God,” to deny the obvious and say there is no God is … well, foolish. The Old Testament has a very low regard for fools.

And the New Testament echoes the same sentiment. Jesus tells the story about a man who harvests bumper crops, and instead of sharing his bounty with those in need, he decides to build bigger barns to hold the surplus. "Now, I can even take early retirement!" he exults. He didn't invite God to his retirement party, but God shows up anyway and tells him he’s going to have a short retirement because death is knocking on his door. And do you know what God calls him? “You fool.” He’s a fool for storing up things for himself rather than being rich toward God. The word is fool.

Jesus also uses that word in the Sermon on the Mount. He’s talking about murder and anger and how we treat others and said, “But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Wow! "You fool” must be the mother of all insults in God’s view.

So it’s April. A lot of us have already been April fools—the victims of somebody’s funny little prank. No big deal in the greater scheme of things. Ha, ha, ha—let’s just laugh it off and move on. But there’s another kind of foolishness that is no laughing matter. And that's being a fool in the sense the Bible describes it. If you’ve been playing that kind of fool, don't you think it's time to wise up—to believe in God, to practice His ways? And this April day would be a very good day to start.


  1. Oh I liked this post and to me the term "self-centered" is key. I think when we are centered on ourselves we can easily be foolish, because let's face it we humans are basically a silly sort when left to our own devices but when we focus on God and try to stay centered on and in Him it is not likely that we will be foolish or thought of as being a fool.

  2. Thanks so much, Mollye. You're right on, I think as to the foolish nature of self-centeredness. It leads us to live in such a small world. And while following Jesus hopefully keeps us from being foolish, I suspect those who don't know Jesus might think us foolish indeed. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  3. You don't know how I agonized over the length of Jerry's event that evening, so I had to smile at your "gotcha" experience. There were numerous "extra" skits I had no control over, and one item dragged on so that mortification turned to choking back laughter together when a Texas friend of Jerry's, seated next to me and observing my expression, drolly observed,"I feel your pain." Anway, I think of all my foolish actions, and thank God for his patience.