Today’s Truth For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So, I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So, I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die (Galatians 2:19-21, NLT).
Friend to Friend I’ve been given a hard task—write down the lies/condemnation my heart hears and the truth that will set me free.
I approach this assignment on an ordinary weekday morning over a cup of coffee. I pull out my favorite journal and write Lies/Condemnation on one side and Truth on the other, and then I draw a black line right down the middle.
The first lie/condemnation comes easily, like a strong wind blowing through me… I’m not good enough.
It’s my signature struggle, the phrase that echoes through my mind most often. When I’ve addressed it in the past I’ve tried a simple counter argument: I am good enough.
This never seems to work. I can say the words but I don’t feel them in my guts and bones. They ring untrue.
On this particular morning I realize suddenly that’s because they are untrue. For me to be “good enough” by my own standards I would have to be perfect. I am not perfect. I never have been. I never will be on this side of eternity.
Shoot. I may need more coffee.
I decide to go digging around in the Word for what else I might write in the Truth column. I find this:
“When I tried to keep the law [[be good enough]], it condemned me. So, I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So, I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless” (Galatians 2:19-21).
Paul is writing these words to people who have been trying to be good enough, too. He is telling them what I’ve come to see: that I will never meet the impossible standard of perfection. His answer is not to pat them on the back and tell them they’re nice people anyway. No, his response really comes down to two words…
It seems in that moment the table on which my coffee mug is sitting shakes, the earth tilts sideways, my old perspective shatters. This is the truth that overcomes every word of condemnation I hear inside my heart…
I’m not good enough. But Jesus.
I fall and fail and make mistakes. But Jesus.
I didn’t get everything right today. But Jesus.
What we need is not more “self-esteem”; it’s to fully understand that our hope and identity and security rest only in our Savior, in what He did for us on the cross and through His resurrection, in who He says we are as a new creation.
I fill the lies/condemnation column of my journal. Half the page is covered in black ink by the time I’m done. Yet when I finish there are still only two words on the Truth side: But Jesus.
I know I will go back to this place in my journal. Maybe your life could use a little more peace today, too. What our hearts struggle with may be different, but what rescues us is the same. We are the beloved and this is our hope, our anthem, our heart-shout that rises above the wind within…
Let’s Pray Dear Lord, You are the Truth my heart desperately needs. When lies and condemnation ring out, help me listen to Love and believe what You say is true. My identity is found in You. My security rests in You alone. There is power in the name of Jesus, who is the Truth and the Life! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Now It’s Your Turn I encourage you to make your own list today. Write Lies/Condemnation on one side of a sheet of paper and Truth on the other, and then I draw a black line right down the middle. And then? Write down “But Jesus.”
More from the Girlfriends Holley Gerth is a bestselling author, encourager and life coach who loves empowering women to embrace who they are and become all God created them to be. Her new devotional Hope Your Heart Needs is filled with 52 encouraging reminders of how God cares for you.
In November 1947, the DuMont Television Network aired a live broadcast of something unprecedented: A comedic TV program plotted around a married couple — a banker and a homemaker — trying to make it in New York City.
To the actors involved, the show was nothing special. There was no live audience and no elaborate film set. The production was shot inside a Manhattan department store. Actress Mary Kay Stearns and her co-star/real-life husband, Johnny, had taken the gig in hopes of boosting their careers on Broadway.
Early TV star Steve Allen (who was the first host of NBC’s The Tonight Show — a show Johnny Stearns was one of the original producers of) once wrote that, “By the end of television’s first decade, [TV] was widely believed to have greater influence on American culture than parents, schools, churches, and government — institutions that had been until then the dominant influences on popular conduct.”
The situational comedy, or sitcom, would play a huge part in that transformation. And though some might claim the genre started with Mary Kay and Johnny, its roots actually reach back much further — all the way to the newspaper funnies of Chicago.
The best description of the sitcom format probably came from TV’s smartest little sister, Lisa Simpson: “It seems like every week something odd happens to the Simpsons … [but] by next week, we’ll be back to where we started from, ready for another wacky adventure.”
The bedrock of every sitcom, from I Love Lucy to The Office, is rooted in that basic principle: A group of fixed characters — whether it be a nuclear family, a married couple, a group of friends, or a team of co-workers — experience a situation that disrupts “normal” life. For the rest of the episode, the characters wrangle with the problem until, usually, there’s some return to “normal.”
Some say the format got its start on Mary Kay and Johnny. Others argue it all began on the radio, or the vaudeville stage. But according to media historian Elizabeth McLeod, the format truly got its start in large part thanks to a comic strip that’s now mostly forgotten — The Gumps.
Created in 1917 by cartoonist Sidney Smith, The Gumps was immensely popular. Distributed nationwide by Chicago’sTribune-News Syndicate, the strip traced the lives of a typical middle class family: A buffoonish husband, a brainy wife, their two children, and their rich uncle.
The Gumps owed much of its acclaim to a clever new editorial concept: The “continuity strip.” Every individual installment of The Gumps was serialized, with each functioning as a piece of a larger whole. According to McLeod, “The storylines in The Gumps carried on for weeks at a time, with readers hanging on every panel.” The continuity strip sent papers flying off the newsstands and would land Smith a lucrative million-dollar contract, an amount unheard of for a newspaper cartoonist.
By the mid-1920s, The Chicago Tribune was riding high on the comic strip’s success and was interested in catching lightning for a second time. In 1925, executives at the paper’s broadcasting unit, WGN, wondered: Could The Gumps translate to radio?
In the United States, radio was taking off. The airwaves had started featuring musical comedy acts from vaudeville variety shows, but nobody had made a serious attempt to plot out a radio show with recurring characters. WGN knew it had to try. The broadcaster asked one of its comedic duos, two men named Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, if they were interested in bringing The Gumps to life on radio.
Gosden and Correll declined. A domestic show about married life made the men uncomfortable. They were especially worried about the logistics of voicing a female character. Instead, the duo decided to build something completely different.
In January 1926, Correll and Gosden released what is arguably the first situational comedy onto the radio-listening word. While it took inspiration from the popular comic strip, it wasn’t anything like The Gumps. Rather, it was a 15-minute act called Sam ‘n’ Henry.
A few years later, the program would assume a new name: Amos ‘n’ Andy.
At its core, Amos ‘n’ Andy was a minstrel show — a blackface act without the makeup. The show featured two white men as they mimicked, and mocked, the dialects of Black Americans. In 1930, thousands of African Americans petitioned the Federal Radio Commission asking for the show’s removal, citing harmful racist stereotypes. Those efforts were ignored. More than 40 million Americans — about one-third of the country — were tuning in to Amos ‘n’ Andy. It would dominate the media landscape for the next 30 years.
By most measurements, Amos ‘n’ Andy was America’s first sitcom. (Some media historians, such as McLeod, argue that, since the earliest episodes were serial in nature, the show doesn’t exactly qualify.) Regardless, Amos ‘n’ Andy undoubtedly set the foundation for the format and, more importantly, proved to radio executives that listeners had the attention spans for character-based programs.
The success of Amos ‘n’ Andy led to a sitcom boom (though few who attempted to copy its minstrel stylings found similar success). The most fruitful productions chose to copy the domestic tropes made popular by The Gumps. Three important early domestic proto-sitcoms — The Smith Family (1927), Lucky and Mirandy (1927), and Smackout (1931) — would appear in the competing Chicago broadcast market, featuring the same husband-and-wife duo: Jim and Marian Jordan. The two would later create Fibber McGee and Molly(1935), a bona-fide sitcom that’d rule the airwaves for 24 years.
A married husband-and-wife duo would become a popular feature of the radio sitcom formula. Meanwhile, other early sitcoms would grow like weeds, each one honing the tropes and stock characters that’d become mainstays of the genre for generations. In fact, the formulas were already so entrenched by the early ‘30s that even the show-titles were comically predictable: Lum and Abner (1931), Vic and Sade (1932), Burns and Allen (1934).
By the 1940s, the invention of television was being touted as an extension of radio — advertisers called it “radio with pictures” — and, naturally, the medium attracted the attention of radio executives and personalities. It wasn’t long before popular radio sitcoms, such as Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Goldbergs, and Life of Riley would make the jump to TV.
Most would not survive.
Revising the Script
In the early years of television, situational comedies struggled. Media executives didn’t know how to profit from television yet. Variety shows, which didn’t require a heavy financial investment, proved to be the more appealing, fiscally secure option. Meanwhile, the few sitcoms that did leap to television would suffer intense growing pains.
Mary Kay and Johnny faded shortly after it appeared. New episodes of the televised Amos ‘n’ Andy onlylasted until the NAACP lambasted it as “a gross libel on the Negro.” (Though that didn’t stop stations from playing re-runs.) The Goldbergs, once a radio heavyweight, became permanently stained after its leading man was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. And the beloved Life of Riley was a casualty of the young industry’s funding woes.
Looking back, it was probably a necessary bloodletting. Writing for the journal Studies in Popular Culture, professor Lawrence Mintz notes that these shows, by superficial standards, appeared ahead of their time: They depicted Black, Jewish, and poor characters. But more often than not, these groups were the butt of the sitcom’s jokes. It would be many more years before an African American would deliver a punchline that wasn’t at his or her expense.
By the mid-1950s, the sitcom had no choice but to reinvent itself — and it succeeded by becoming a vehicle for social commentary. Back in the 17th century, English playwrights had adapted to cultural change by developing the “comedy of manners,” poking fun at the unwritten rules of aristocratic society. The successful sitcoms of the 1950s adopted the same spirit. David Pierson, a professor of Media Studies, writes:
“The characters in sitcoms … are just as obsessed and frustrated with following and often circumventing the prevailing social codes (of an American middle-class civility) as the characters in the English Restoration comedies … American situation comedies feature a wide range of dramatic characters either following, struggling with, or circumventing dominant social codes and manners.”
No greater example can be found than I Love Lucy (1951). While the show followed the same tried-and-true format of a radio sitcom — it even starred a husband-and-wife team, a well-worn trope by then — the show was distinctly different in how it centered a female lead and her attempts to step away from the traditional female role of a housewife. And while Lucy was, admittedly, something of a ditz (and her attempts to climb socially a failure), her character reflected an important change in the sitcom: The audience was more likely to laugh with Lucy than at her.
Rinse and Repeat
Writing in the journal Studies in American Humor, Hofstra University Professor Emeritus John Bryant argues that the basic formula of a sitcom has never really changed.
“The situation comedy formula, then, exposes [confronts] our conflicting urges to be part of a stable group and to assert our independence from that group. Although the formula demands a final return to stability, it is in the journey away from stability, the glimpsing of forbidden worlds of freedom, and the exploration but eventual repression of the wish to grow beyond one’s prescribed role that we find the formula’s dynamic appeal.”
While this formula has paved the way for countless successes, it has also spelled doom for nearly every production. Times change. Cultures adjust. Notions of “stability” evolve. A woman trying to get a job, as Lucille Ball’s character often attempted, might seem like a “journey away from stability” in 1951. But it wouldn’t seem so far-fetched by 1971.
According to Bryant, between 1955 and 1960, more than 90% of sitcoms on television could be classified “domestic.” But by the ’60s, audiences were over it. Newton Minow, then the FCC Chairman, openly complained of “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families.”
In other words, sitcoms had to adjust to stay relevant. And they did.
By the mid-1960s, only 41% of situational comedies could be called “domestic.” Of those, many were already reflecting societal change. Some, such as My Three Sons (1960), featured a single parent raising children. Others, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961), showed characters dividing their attention between work and home. The decade also invited a slew of rural sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show (1960), military-themed shows like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964)and fantasies such as Bewitched (1964)and I Dream of Jeannie (1965).
All of these shows responded to the cultural moment. The Beverly Hillbillies, for example, fundamentally centered on the growing clash between urban and rural sensibilities. (The Clampetts might have been simple-minded caricatures, but the show’s true targets were Hollywood’s snobs.). “Liberals could see the above episode as a jab at the business establishment,” Bryant writes, “while more conservative viewers might have taken it as a confirmation of traditional morality.” In other words, the show successfully balanced its appeal to both sides of the political divide.
But this wouldn’t last. By 1968, the nation was embroiled in unrest, and as the nation’s divisions widened, so did the Nielsen Ratings. For shows like Hillbillies, viewership among younger and more progressive fans plummeted. The same could be said for Hogan’s Heroes, a sitcom set in a German POW camp. While the show was fundamentally anti-authoritarian, it became clear that, as discontent over the Vietnam War grew, a military-themed program would need to do more than just poke fun at authority.
In 1971, a new program successfully answered the call. Whereas Hogan’s Heroes was anti-authoritarian, M*A*S*H took things one step further — it was anti-war.
The same progression can be said for the era’s popular fantasy programs. In the mid-1960s, these shows attempted to paint subtle portraits of “liberated,” problem-solving women. These characters, however, often had to resort to supernatural means to achieve their goals. By 1970, the superpowers were no longer necessary: The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Mary Richards certainly didn’t need any.
That’s been the story of the sitcom ever since. The fundamental formula has always stayed the same, whether the group of roommates are four older women on The Golden Girls (1985) or six Manhattanites on Friends (1994), or the sprawling family was The Brady Bunch (1969) or the Pritchetts and Dunphys of Modern Family (2009). What’s changed is how the characters reflect, or respond to, the moods and currents of American culture. Done well, laughter (and sometimes even ratings) has always followed.
Matthew 23:25–26 “You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may also be clean” (v. 26).
Hyperbole is one of the best ways to make one’s teaching memorable, and Jesus, a master teacher, is unafraid to use exaggerated statements to make a point. Matthew 23:24 records one such example; Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that in straining out a gnat they swallow a camel! The gnat is the smallest unclean animal found in Palestine (Lev. 11:20–23), and the Pharisees strain their liquids through a cloth to make sure no tiny gnat is present that would make their drink unclean. This analogy for being concerned with the tiny details of the law (Matt. 23:23) is contrasted with the swallowing of a camel, the largest unclean creature in Palestine (Lev. 11:4). Jesus’ vivid image reveals that an inordinate focus on purity in the lesser things of the Law makes a person unclean in regards to its weightier matters.
Christ’s fifth woe confirms that many of the scribes and Pharisees have put their efforts at godliness in the wrong place (Matt. 23:25–26). All Jewish sects in His day agree on the need to wash their dishes in order to maintain their ceremonial cleanness, and they certainly also agree that it is pointless to cleanse the outside of a cup and leave the inside filthy. Yet this is precisely what the piety of our Lord’s opponents has achieved. Outward behavior is important, but many scribes and Pharisees have not worked also on their souls. Thinking that external conformity to the Law is enough, they have not seen that evil is ultimately a matter of the heart, for all wickedness originates there (Matt. 5:21–30). Those concerned solely with what others see, not the darkness within, are like a cup whose handle is sparkling but has the coffee from three weeks ago inside. No matter how much you polish that handle, the cup is still dirty.
The Law does not deal merely with externals; its goal is purity of heart (Lev. 19:17–18). Repeated washings should remind the washer of his perpetual dirtiness and help him long for a clean heart. The Pharisees have missed this, failing to see that outer cleanliness depends upon inner purity, (Matt. 23:26). Matthew Henry writes, “If renewing, sanctifying grace make clean the inside, that will have an influence on the outside, for the commanding principle is within.”
CORAM DEO: LIVING BEFORE THE FACE OF GOD
According to Matthew Henry: “those sins must be conscientiously abstained from, which the eye of God only is a witness to, who searches the heart.” We can easily think we are being obedient if we do many good deeds, however, doing such things while harboring hatred, jealousy, and other such inward sins is to act as a hypocrite. We are hypocrites if we fail to mortify those things only God can see. What inner thoughts and feelings must you put to death?
“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1
“If any man sin, we have an advocate.” Yes, though we sin, we have him still. John does not say, “If any man sin he has forfeited his advocate,” but “we have an advocate,” sinners though we are. All the sin that a believer ever did, or can be allowed to commit, cannot destroy his interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, as his advocate. The name here given to our Lord is suggestive. “Jesus.” Ah! then he is an advocate such as we need, for Jesus is the name of one whose business and delight it is to save. “They shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” His sweetest name implies his success. Next, it is “Jesus Christ”–Christos, the anointed. This shows his authority to plead. The Christ has a right to plead, for he is the Father’s own appointed advocate and elected priest. If he were of our choosing he might fail, but if God hath laid help upon one that is mighty, we may safely lay our trouble where God has laid his help. He is Christ, and therefore authorized; he is Christ, and therefore qualified, for the anointing has fully fitted him for his work. He can plead so as to move the heart of God and prevail. What words of tenderness, what sentences of persuasion will the anointed use when he stands up to plead for me! One more letter of his name remains, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” This is not only his character but his plea. It is his character, and if the Righteous One be my advocate, then my cause is good, or he would not have espoused it. It is his plea, for he meets the charge of unrighteousness against me by the plea that he is righteous. He declares himself my substitute and puts his obedience to my account. My soul, thou hast a friend well fitted to be thine advocate, he cannot but succeed; leave thyself entirely in his hands.