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Wait…I can have fun at church? Amberly Neese

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
December 27, 2023 5:15 am

Wait…I can have fun at church? Amberly Neese

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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December 27, 2023 5:15 am

Wait...I can have fun at church? Are you hungry for true community, deeper connection with God, and friendships that are greater than just “likes” on social media? Are you ready for real connections with those around you? Tune in with Author Amberly Neese as she explores the theology of laughter and embracing life with Jesus!

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Connect with Amberly Neese and catch more of their thoughts at and on social media on Insta, Facebook and Vimeo.

And grab Amberly Neese's book, The Belonging Project

Want to hear more episodes by Amberly Neese, listen here!

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So the clock is ticking. There's only a few days left in this year, and I'm telling you, you've heard us talk about becoming a financial partner with us to literally change families and impact the world for the kingdom of God. Now's your time. There's just a few hours left. Jump in now and join us.

Every dollar is doubled. And so you can go to right now and make a gift. And I'm just going to say we need you. We need you to impact families with us.

You can make a difference. This is Family Life Today. We're gonna laugh today. I think we are. I think we're gonna laugh today.

But we're also gonna go deep today. I tell you what, growing up in the church, and I hated it. My mom dragged me there. And one of the things I hated about church as a kid, even a teenager, there wasn't, you weren't allowed to laugh. There was no laughter. It's so funny you say that because I only went to church a couple times probably growing up, but the thing that I loved about it is my whole family, there were four kids, my parents, we'd go into this pew and sometime in that one hour, one of my brothers would do something so funny. And we would start laughing. You know that laughter that you are shaking and that you're trying to hold it in, but you're just like, oh, you're trying to hold it in.

That would happen. I don't even remember what happened at the church or what the pastor said, but that was my favorite part of my brothers trying to make me laugh. Well, the truth is God's a God of joy. Absolutely. And laughter. And we've got Amberley Neese in the studio who's a comedian.

She's, you're a humorist. I mean, I just look at you. Your smile is as big as this room. Thank you. Welcome to Family Life Today.

Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. We're so excited to have you because you're funny, but you're also a Bible teacher.

A college prof. I am. And most people don't think that those things can coexist. How can you be theologically sound and find humor in things? And I think, oh, man, I think Jesus cut up with his friends. That's what I think. I really do. You think he was fun and funny. Absolutely. Absolutely. But we always see him depicted as this serious somber, which he had serious work to do. There's no doubt about it. However, I think he was seriously funny. I mean, he, of all people, probably found humor in how things were fearfully and wonderfully made and sometimes more fear than wonder.

But still good stuff. So I'm excited to be here. I mean, we're going to talk about some of your projects, your belonging project, untangling faith studies that you've created, which we've gone through.

We'll get there. Great. But tell us your journey a little bit about this humor thing, because you're married to an opera singer. Isn't that right? I am. I like that. He does sing opera indeed.

Yes, yes, yes. To be honest with you, I came from a funny family. My dad was the king of dad jokes.

I mean, he had the spiritual gift of the grown. We would just be like, oh, dad, you're killing me. But I'm so thankful for that background. But I'm Texan and I'm Italian. I come from storytelling lineage.

I mean, the DNA is our stories. When I became a believer, pretty early on, I was saying, OK, so I understand that I'm redeemed. So how, like, here I am, Lord, send me.

What does that look like? And what I was so thankful for is when he called me, he didn't say, I need you to leave your humor. I need you to leave your storytelling where it is. In fact, he said, I want to, you know, use those gifts for my glory. I mean, is there a, in your mind, a theology of joy or laughter that you base your humor? I mean, you do this for a living. You help people enjoy and feel joy.

Absolutely. Where does that come from? I think part of it obviously comes from the scripture that talks about laughter is good medicine. It's that so many people think of the church as a place where you go to get serious.

And again, there is a time for serious. We need to be serious in our faith. But I feel like the joy of the Lord should be our strength. And some of that starts with finding where the joy is, not just the deep philosophical, theological strength to that. Jesus said, I've come that they might have life or joy and have it to abundance. And I think a bunch of us are doing it wrong. We're not living very abundantly.

We're living fair to partly cloudy, but we're not living looking for the joy that God has in store for us. And Dave, I will say as a pastor, I bet there wasn't one time that we left a service that you hadn't made us laugh. That was on purpose, literally deliberate in my notes. And I know you do the same thing as a comedian and as a teacher and a professor. But I always, I'm an evangelist at heart, so I'm always thinking of the unchurched guy.

And I know he's like me. I didn't come to Christ till my junior year in college. So, you know, first 20 years were outside the church. And I remember I formulated because I turned this into a sermon one time with the Detroit Lions.

And I remember a guy came up afterwards and he goes, that's exactly what I thought. And here's what I said. I always thought I don't want to become a Christian because here's what they are. They have no fun.

They have no freedom and they have no fulfillment. There you are. I'm a preacher.

Three Fs, right? I was going to say, wow. Just play softly and tenderly and I will come forward. You are the alliteration girl. I read your stuff. Absolutely. And I immediately go right to it. Ann's always like, I don't remember any of those four Hs you gave.

And I'm like, everything Amberlee does has, you know, because it sticks. But anyway, I really, when I got around Christians in the church, they didn't laugh. They were all about rules. They judged everybody. Totally. And I was like, I don't want any part of that. And not all churches were like that. No, of course. But that was just my outsider perspective.

Of course. But then when I come to Christ and I start my journey, I realize the opposite. You talk about fun.

Oh, yeah. The joy that's in Christ beats anything the world can give you. You talk about freedom. Because I thought it was a bunch of rules.

You can't do anything. Oh, my goodness. The freedom in Christ. And then you talk about fulfillment.

I mean, you can take those three things and flip them the other way. And so I realized, man, when I'm preaching, there's people listening that don't know Christ. If there's no joy or humor, they're not interested. Right. And if they don't smile somewhere in the first five minutes, they're probably not going to listen to you. So again, it wasn't like I got to put something in just to get them. But I'm like, Jesus is full of joy.

They should feel that in the environment of Father's Christ. So that's why I asked you. Absolutely. And he was a master teacher.

Yes. And you probably didn't think this through, maybe, not necessarily when you were preaching. But physiologically and psychologically, when we laugh, walls go down, defensiveness goes down. We communally enjoy the people in the pews next to us or chairs or whatever it is that your church uses. When you laugh together, even if you have no clue what the other person is going through, there is this deep connection that we're hardwired for. So when we laugh, those defenses go down, then we're more apt to be able to hear what God has to say to us because we're not putting up our dukes inside of our hearts.

We're not being defensive. So I think it's glorious. Me too. And I'm so thankful that God gave you that gift of humor to be able to do that because I'm confident that he used it powerfully to help people hear the message more clearly. I just know that what you said earlier, often you see the folded arms over your chest. And even when we do a marriage conference, you see that husband, and it could be the wife, but often the wife dragged him there. You can tell.

He didn't want to come. He had marks on his legs from being dragged. And I'm sitting there on stage like, my eye is on that guy. Like, when is his arms going to come down? And usually it's humor.

Yes, absolutely. Something said done where he goes, oh, I like these people. These people struggle. They laugh like me. Maybe God has something to say to me.

I'm guessing that's what you experience because you're all around the country every weekend. Absolutely. And pleasure endorphins, I mean, all sorts of things. Like I said, physiologically, it's fantastic.

When we can take that physiological and the theological and put them together, it's exciting. Now, how does that work in your home? Because I'm thinking the same thing happens with our kids. Absolutely. I'm guessing the niece home is pretty funny.

Oh, yeah. We laugh all of the time. I mean, we think we're hilarious. We say that sometimes.

The things we find funny may be not for everybody else, but we do laugh a lot. And I love my husband. I'm crazy about him.

We've been married 31 years, and there are days that I just cannot love him anymore. And then there are days that I want to sell him on eBay. I'm going to be in full disclosure.

If shipping was not so high, he would be out. And probably he wants to sell me as well. But the truth is, we laugh together. We pray together, which is the most important. We communicate even when things are ugly and unfun and messy, but we also laugh together. We think the other one is really funny. I've always said I'm the comedian. He is funnier than I am. He is so hilarious. But he's the more cerebral humor than me. And he's a hoot, but we do laugh together. And I'm so thankful for that.

I hope that never, on this side of glory, I hope it never ends. I think our family, too, we laughed a lot. And it creates a haven. Don't you think? Oh, absolutely. I remember thinking when I was growing up, my parents, they weren't believers, but we had fun. And I remember being at parties in high school thinking, yeah, this isn't as much fun as my home. Absolutely. And so it made me want to be home because that's where joy was abounding. And I think that was important to us as parents as well. My kids always knew they could bring kids over.

Yes. And it wouldn't be embarrassing that we would have fun. I mean, again, we were doing dorky things. It was family game night or it was homemade pizza night or whatever the thing was. But we would laugh together.

It's a magnet. I feel so blessed. And both kids have said, I want that. Wherever God calls us, I want that in our home that people know that they can come and it's a safe place. And we'll laugh and have a good time. Well, let's talk a little bit community. Because that's a good segue. It is a good segue. You're bringing people in your home. Well done. It's like you guys do this for a living. It's so good.

I'm looking at this thing called the belonging project, finding your tribe and learning to thrive. Yeah. Look at that. She rhymes. I do. She's just like you. You rhyme.

I know. She's like the heart of God, but explain the belonging project. Part of it came out of like what behooved me to write it in the first place is that my husband and I moved to a new community and we were having a terrible time finding connection. And some of it is we were a little bit older. Our kids weren't really small. I think when our kids were small, it was easy to find connection because it's like, oh, the kids play soccer together or they do ballet together or whatever it happens to be. So we were really struggle-busting when it came to that.

And I just tried to search God's word to kind of figure out what do I do with this desire to connect and the having trouble doing just that. And then research came out in January of 2020 that said 61 percent of Americans admitted to being lonely. And so I thought, I am not alone in this. So this was a little bit tied to the pandemic. Maybe this was before a pandemic. Can you imagine what the statistics are now?

Because that's January of 2020 before we were hoarding toilet paper, before all that happened, before people were so disconnected, 61 percent admitted to being lonely. And so I found myself thinking, man, if the church would understand this need, we don't need any more campaigns or whatever. We just need to be people who love people. I mean, that's really it sounds overly simplistic. So I dove into the word and I found all of the one another verses in the New Testament, like love one another, pray for one another.

There are 52, which I think is interesting, like one for every week that we can focus on. But all those one another verses, what does biblical community look like? I mean, we can look at the Acts 2 church and we can say, like, wow, good for them. They shared everything they had. There's times that I don't even want to share the cookie that I'm eating. They shared everything they had. But what does that look like now? Can we do exactly that? Can we just replicate that completely? Or, you know, what kind of roadmap did God leave for us to kind of figure out what biblical community could look like? And I found it in the one anothers.

And some of them are super easy. Love one another. It's like, oh, yeah, I mean, people who I hang out with, you know, my friends, I love them. I'm living the one another really well.

Even the guy that cuts me off in traffic. There are times that I'm like, OK, love one another. OK, I got to love this guy. OK, here we go.

Let's try this. But then there are some that were harder. Yeah. How do you apply it to people that you you've been hurt by?

Yeah. Maybe they literally have a theology that you absolutely disagree with. How do you love them? Well, what I think is interesting is, like, even forgive one another, which, again, so easy to say, just like flies right off the tongue. But that is so hard to practice, especially when people have been so people-y and have hurt and betrayed or whatever it happens to be. But I think we have to go back to, first of all, the forgiveness that we've received from Jesus.

We didn't deserve it. While we were still sinners, while we were still in reckless rebellion, Christ died for us. So he initiated that. And I think that's part of finding your tribe and learning to thrive is being willing to initiate. But we have the word give in it. Forgive. It's not foretake, meaning what we deserve or what they deserve, but really forgive to be generous of spirit, to be thinking through those things.

It doesn't mean that we need to put ourselves in danger emotionally or interpersonally, but it does mean that we have to practice those things. And the other thing is, one of the hardest one anothers for me was actually practicing hospitality, because even though I'm Italian, I always felt like my house had to be perfect. Like all the people that had the gift of hospitality in my world. It was like they, oh, you walk into their home and it's like everything's sparkly and, you know, clean and the food is perfect and everything's perfectly timed. And God bless them in their ministry.

That's so great that they can do that. But I found myself really struggling with that. But then when I did the study, I realized the root of that is actually hospital, like to be a hospital. And the first century church, that Acts 2 church, what they would do is they would set up homes in the most difficult parts of people's journey. You know, oftentimes when we're, you know, with the sermons talking about like the Good Samaritan, that there were places that were really treacherous to travel. And the first century church was so brilliant and they set up safe houses for people.

And it was not a place where they got medical care like we think of hospital. It was just a place when people were having a hard time on their journey, that it was a safe place to be. So I found myself asking if I'm struggling finding community. My first question is, am I safe place for somebody who's having a hard time on their journey? Not when things are all perfect and hallmark and nice and rainbows and happy faces, but when their journey is rough, when their time is rough.

What's that look like for you guys? Like, did you do something specifically? Because if you're thinking, oh, I want my home to be a hospital. I want people to come to me when their time is rough.

Like, what's that look like? I think the first thing for us, and again, this may not be like a one-size-fits-all, but the first thing for us was for us to admit that we were imperfect and to admit it to other people. To be willing to say, hey, we're a mess. That's why we need a mess, Saya. We are a mess.

We are in need. And to be willing to lead with that. I think for so long, we felt like, especially when Scott was in ministry, that we needed to lead with our strengths. But the Apostle Paul says that Christ is perfected in his weakness, right? He literally sets up tent in his weakness.

And so we needed to be willing to say, we're imperfect, but if you want to come over, we'd love to be a safe place for you to be. That's how it started. And by his grace, I mean, I think it's like Thomas got to see Jesus do all these cool miracles. He got to see him feed 5,000 as an Italian. I'm like, that's my people right there.

I love that. But when did Jesus really become real to Thomas? When he had scars. It was Jesus' scars that made him real. And sometimes our scars is what makes Jesus real to other people. So it's being willing to say, this is a struggle for us. This is hard.

You know, I'm thinking, Dave and I, that's easy for us to do. Like, here's our scars. We're so messed up. You think you're bad? Well, we've probably been through it too. We're worse.

Yeah, we're worse. But I haven't made the connection of, I still, when people come in my house, I want it to look good. And I just started thinking as you're talking, I thought that's probably because my mom and grandmother, if we'd be at somebody's house, we'd come out of the house, we'd get in the car. And I was a little girl and they'd be like, did you see her sink? You see how dirty, does she ever clean her? All the trash cans were full. Did you notice that? So they would go through their entire home and critique why it wasn't perfect or well. My mom was cleaning out the registers every week. That's where she was.

And so no wonder. I feel like my house, my life is messy and I'm willing to show that. But why wouldn't I let people see my house messy? So one of the things that I love about this show, and it sounds like I'm tickling your ears, but one of the things I love about it is that you guys are real deal, right? You're willing to say, this is where I'm at. So my question to you is, is it possible leaving some dishes in the sink will make you more relatable to the person who comes in? Yes. And I'm thinking back of the times I've been in somebody's house.

I'm more attracted to the house that is messy and to the mom or the friend or the woman that says, sorry, my house is a wreck. Hey, can you come and help me get dinner? Right. Yes. I feel like, oh, you need me? What a gift. You don't care? Yes.

This is amazing. Yes. Instead of, hey, here's everything perfectly displayed. Right. Right. So now our house is going to be just a- A pigsty. A pigsty.

That's what I'm hearing. You like our house clean too. You know what though? I mean, I do like my house picked up. There's no doubt about it, but I think just getting to a place where I do remember the time that we were picking stuff up and my son said, who's coming over? And I'm like, oh, guilty party of one. You know?

Yeah. But maybe leaving a couple of dishes in the sink is a way to do that. And again, it's not really about the dishes.

It's really about just being willing to say, if you want perfect, Jesus is the only one to look at. Because we are construction. We are under construction and thankful for that. So when Scott and I were dating, his mom was getting her master's degree in counseling. Oh, great.

You're marrying a- I know. Don't even get me started. Don't even get me started. Here we go. Wait.

Here it is. Buckle up, buttercup. She needed to do homework and she had to do it with somebody who's not in her family. So I foolishly wanting to appease her. Sure. Yeah.

I'll help you. That's great. And she asked me at one time for one of the homework assignments, she gave me an eight and a half by 11 piece of paper and she said, draw a tree on this. And I said, oh, Jan, I'm like the worst artist.

She says, it has nothing to do with your artistry. I'm like, all right, a tree. She said, yeah, a tree. So I do a tree. And for those of you who are listening, I have big hair.

That is, hair product is absolutely a spiritual gift of mine and big old hair. So my tree, big, big leaves. I had this, these cool gnarly roots. They didn't go into the ground, but I love when a tree has like, you know, character.

So the roots were all gnarly. I put a big knot in the middle of the tree. I thought for sure it was like a little Narnia, a little bit of Winnie the Pooh. She put a squirrel in it? I always put a squirrel in mine.

I didn't put an animal because I can't draw and I didn't want it to be scary. But I put that knot in there just knowing that that was the deal. And she said, well, the class I'm taking right now tells me that this is a reflection of you. So she said, I love that your tree's in the very middle.

That tells us some great balance things. I love that the foliage on your tree is very healthy. But she was like, what is the knot? What? And I said, oh, the knot is like, I love knots. I think they're so, she says, yeah, but if you're the tree.

She says, it does bother me that your roots don't go underneath the ground. This is where she, you know, this is where she got into deep, whatever. But she said, what is your knot?

And I said, I don't know what you're talking about. She said, where, what is your knot? And it was literally like, well, probably my parents' worst.

You know, like I broke into tears right away. But wouldn't you know that early in our marriage when I was doing youth ministry, guess what part of my life was the part that kids could relate to the most? It was the knot. And when we had miscarriages, when we had so many years of infertility, nine years that we were married, we could get pregnant.

We just couldn't stay pregnant. That knot, one in three couples can relate to that knot. And God often uses that knot for His glory.

And is it fun? It is not fun to share your knots. And yet that's the redeemer, right? He doesn't just redeem our life from the pit.

He redeems our life, all that part of our life to bring glory to Himself. So that, that knot part of me. So being willing to say, I got a fair share of knots, and I'm willing to open my home and open my life and open my heart. And when we did that, when we were willing to do that, which is super vulnerable, God just started sending couples our way that were like-minded. Some of their knots look different than ours, but they were also willing to say, this is where we're at. And so we got to practice the belonging project together on each other. We didn't do the study necessarily that way, but it really came to life.

It was very kind of God to allow me to go through this process as I was writing this book. That's beautiful. I mean, that's the tribe.

Yeah. You know, you find your tribe. I mean, I know I preached this years ago at our church, but it hit me later in my life.

I should have known this way before, but it's just what you said. You used the knot analogy. I just used the pain analogy. It's like, your pain leads to your purpose. We're sitting here doing family life today because we almost lost our marriage. And I came from a home broken and I had a passion for marriage. So it became our purpose, but it hit me later.

I think I was writing the sermon. I'm like, yeah, but it isn't just your pain leads to your purpose, your pain. And you're going to like this because they're all peace. Your pain leads to your people because you end up doing life with people with similar knots or passion for knots, to use that analogy.

And here's what hit me today as I'm listening to you, Amber. I'm like, when you take being vulnerable and real and messy and not hiding that, and then you combine that with humor and joy, that's a magnet for especially unchurched people to be drawn to the person of Christ because they think Christian people are perfect and serious, where Christian people are imperfect and joy filled. And it's not our joy. It's his joy. And they're drawn to that.

So sitting here listening to you, I'm like, of course, that's how you find your tribe and helps you thrive. And there's no way in the Acts 2 church when they shared everything and they broke bread together that there wasn't laughter and that the Holy Spirit didn't use the overheard laughter. Like, man, my neighbors, I don't know what's going on over there, but they're having a raucous good time. They are living life and I want to know what that looks like. I know that laughter is an evangelical tool.

Well, all I want to know is I want to take a piece of paper to all of my family and my children and let them draw a tree. Right? Right. I think your mother-in-law was making up that she was studying for a degree. You know what, I'm guessing, yeah, maybe. She just wanted to find out. Yeah, she knew I had issues to my tissues. So it's fine. So often we hide our knots.

We put a cover over it, and I did for years. And yet Jesus looks at that and he kind of, you know, rubs his hands together like, oh, girl, I'll use all of that for my glory. You bet. I love that.

And you think about it, when you look at trees and you look at how cool and characteristic they are, it is those knots that make them gloriously interesting. Yes. And I'm okay with that. I wasn't always.

Me neither. If we're a billboard for Jesus, I wanted a perfect billboard. But I've just gotten to a place that if the Apostle Paul can say he rejoices all the more in his weakness, then I need to do the same. And so I try to rejoice, right? I try to laugh, even in my weakness.

I try to find joy in that. And I'm thankful for the community that's come behind. And so this study started with my own journey, and I have been so blown away by the number of small groups who have called and said, we're laughing together. We're having a great time together. We're doing life together.

And what an honor to be part of that. And I'm so glad that God can take my pain. And like you said, help me find my people and help me find my purpose.

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to David Ann Wilson with Amber Lee Niece on Family Life Today. You know, that's what God is in the business of doing, just what she was talking about. Flipping the script on us and helping us to see that our weaknesses are really strengths in his hands, and then throwing that in the context of community is just a jet fuel for how God can work.

You know, the president of Family Life, David Robbins, says, if dependence is the goal, then weakness is an advantage. And I love that God is using Amber Lee in that specific way to really show off through her weaknesses. Amber Lee's written a book called The Belonging Project, about finding your tribe and learning to thrive.

It's a four-week Bible study that provides solid biblical help and practical guidance for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through finding connection with other people through the one-another sayings in the New Testament. So you could go online to and click on today's resources to get a copy of her book. And I've really enjoyed the time with Amber Lee today. And in fact, she was kind enough to give us this specific encouragement. The Bible tells us that those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. And the truth is, when I need a good refreshment, I absolutely find Family Life to be exactly what the good doctor ordered. It's great encouragement. It's great wisdom. It is also the truths of God in the stories that you hear and the encouragement that you receive. And so December is a big month for Family Life, and we are counting on people like you and me who have been touched by the ministry of Family Life and who want to be generous and who want to refresh others in the name of Jesus. And so I challenge you, as I challenge myself, be the blessing.

Be the one who refreshes others, and I know indeed you will be refreshed in the meantime. Yeah, and thanks to some generous donors, every gift that's given this month is going to be matched dollar for dollar up to $3 million. So you can help us take advantage of these donors' generosity, and you can give today. You can go online to and click on the donate now button at the top of the page.

Is that right at the top there? Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today.

So what really is the power of biblical community in our lives? Well, tomorrow Amberley Nees is back again with Davyn Ann Wilson to talk about finding your tribe and learning to thrive. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Davyn Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-27 07:12:21 / 2023-12-27 07:25:59 / 14

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