Hearty Laughter as an Act of Faith

Sometime in my twenties, I realized that I have a big laugh. Like, really big—loud and sharp. If I think something is funny, there’s no chance I’m sneaking up on anyone.

I’m sure there are lots of people who wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. I guess self-knowledge can take time.

A Choice

Even though my default laugh sticks out like a giraffe in a chicken coop, I can rein it in. I can chortle in polite society.

When I realized how conspicuous my laughter made me, I had to make a choice. I could restrain myself, putting the brakes on my loud outbursts and moving closer to respectability. Or, I could throw back my head and howl.

I may be accused of spiritualizing here, but to me this was an act of faith.

Vulnerable

The word “vulnerable” comes to English from a Latin word that means “wound.” So when we are vulnerable, we are wound-able. And laughter jostles our normal armor out of place and exposes us.

When we laugh or show delight, we take a risk. By revealing what brings us pleasure we open ourselves to criticism and ridicule. Anyone who sees us rejoice in something they deem absurd or despicable can attack—if not publicly and openly, then in whispers or clicks on a keyboard. Laughter points a neon arrow at our joy, offering it up for public scrutiny. And boisterous laughter adds to the arrow a fire whistle and a fog horn.

An Act of Faith

A large part of my Christian repentance has been to stop focusing so much energy on people liking and praising me. And so, though I knew it may cause some to dismiss, mock, or avoid me, I embraced my laugh.

My laugh is one of the threads God used to knit me together, and I love to laugh. Laughter is part of the way I delight in the creative, beautiful, surprising, and strange ways God has made his world. (I mean, how can you stifle a laugh when you crack open a pomegranate?!)

The more I embrace my laughter and trust the Lord with the outcome, the more I learn to exercise my faith. There is no security in others’ opinions, no freedom in hoarding the worthless currency of back slaps from the respected. I trust that the love of God in Jesus is far, far better.

Any time we reveal emotion we take a chance. We give ammunition to those who may wish us harm. But we dare not turn stoic—God made us whole and he left out no ingredient.

So when we gather next, don’t be surprised to hear deep laughter coming from my direction. I won’t be trying to make a scene, but I won’t be holding back either.

There are wild, delightful things (and people!) in this world, and many times a chuckle just won’t do.

Post credit | Photo credit

A Man Under Authority

When the psalmist encouraged us to meditate on God’s word, I don’t think he had children’s songs in mind. But if you want to have biblical stories, words, and truths cycling through your mind every waking moment, you could do worse than to have a child who only ever wants to listen to one biblical children’s music collection. 

If this post were part of a series, it would be Part II of “Truths Sarah Learned from Children’s Songs” (see Part I here). This time the song was “The Centurion’s Secret” by The Donut Man, an overall-clad, mustachioed song leader and children’s show host from my childhood, who I rediscovered on Amazon Music. The song tells the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant from Matthew 8:5–13 (also Luke 7:1–10). Sometime around the billionth listen, as the chorus replayed a fourth time, a piece of the story clicked for me in a way it never had before. 

“I, Too”

I was familiar with the general narrative: A centurion approaches Jesus (or sends someone to him, depending which gospel account you read) with a request to heal his dear servant. Jesus offers to go to the servant, but the centurion states that he is not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof and that Jesus can simply speak a word and heal the servant—which indeed, Jesus does. 

But there’s an odd line in there that I never quite understood. As the centurion assures Jesus he doesn’t need to come, he says: “For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).

He’s certainly indicating that he understands that a person with authority can cause things to be done without their hands-on intervention. If he tells one of his soldiers to carry a message, the message will be delivered without the centurion traveling with it personally. Likewise, the centurion knew that a man with authority, like Jesus, could simply give the word for the servant to be healed, and it would happen. 

But he didn’t describe himself—and Jesus—as a man with authority; he said they were men under authority. At first, to me that seemed demeaning to Jesus. Jesus is the all-powerful God of the universe in human form. He was instrumental in creation itself (John 1:3)! How dare the centurion suggest that Jesus was subject to anyone else. 

Finally, while my daughter sang along in the back seat, it clicked: The centurion didn’t only believe that Jesus was able to heal his servant; he understood why Jesus was able to do it.

Just like the centurion knew that he received his authority to command his soldiers from those in authority over him, he understood that Jesus drew his authority from the Father. Jesus consistently described himself this way, such as in John 14:10: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” 

Declarations like these drew anger and unbelief from the religious leaders of Israel. It took this Roman occupier to see that Jesus did his great works, not to build his own glory, but on the authority of and for the glory of the one who sent him, God the Father. No wonder Jesus remarked, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10).

“He Marveled at Him”

Throughout the gospels Jesus taught that his hearers must believe that he is from the Father in order to be saved and have eternal life. This centurion believed what the religious leaders missed, that Jesus was exactly who he said he was.

The centurion’s statement reflected a second aspect of true faith that, again, the religious leaders missed. This comes through most clearly in Luke’s retelling, where the centurion doesn’t even presume to approach Jesus himself. He sends the Jewish elders to Jesus first, and they plead the man’s works: “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:4–5). The elders assume that Jesus will be impressed by loyalty to Israel and acts of piety. 

Upon Jesus drawing closer to the house, though, the centurion sends out his own friends with a personal message: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you” (Luke 7:6–7), followed by his statement about Jesus’s authority. The Jewish elders argued for the centurion’s worthiness; the centurion knew his unworthiness and made his case solely on Jesus’s mercy and power. At this, Jesus marveled (Luke 7:9).

Our flesh, like the Jewish elders, wants to plead our case based on our merits, our church attendance, our volunteer hours, our consistent devotional times. We are perhaps especially vulnerable as Christians in America; our culture values self-sufficiency and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. 

The centurion understood that he had no bootstraps to pull when it came to Jesus. The “John Wayne” approach that worked for leading troops wouldn’t sway a divine man who taught about loving one’s enemies and seeking a kingdom not of this world. This man who was so large in his own world knew that, before Jesus, he had no standing. 

Like the centurion, we need to see rightly what Jesus loves, what makes him marvel. He is not impressed by our works, even the best that we can bring. He marvels at true faith, the kind that brings nothing and asks everything, trusting in Jesus’ authority—and his goodness.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (9/3/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes

Here’s a nice summary of the book of Ecclesiastes and some thoughts on its relationship to the gospel.

Too often, our superficial, triumphalistic approach to Christianity in America doesn’t face the real problems of living in a sinful world. In Ecclesiastes 8:14, the Preacher, provides this depressing assessment, “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.” Not exactly the kind of descriptions that would make a tourism brochure for the global chamber of commerce. But the preacher in Ecclesiastes follows that statement up with “I commend joy” and “to eat and drink and be joyful” (Ecc 8:15). What is the connection between gut-wrenching, painful injustice and being joyful?

What Do I Do With “Wasted Years?”

Jeremy Howard writes a personal reflection that is worth your time. He wrestles with a question many of us face—how should we think about periods of our life where there is no obvious fruit from our diligent efforts for the kingdom of God?

Due to life circumstances, I left at the end of 2014.  Shortly after that, the school had to close for a myriad of reasons. When I left 6 years after starting, I had changed exactly none of that future for them.  Years of effort and love and passion poured into a project that one day vanished like the mist.  No discernible impact from my perspective. What was it all for?  Was there a purpose in what I did? I cannot speak to the greater impact, only eternity can reveal that. 

What’s the Difference Between Sloth and Rest?

John Piper gives a helpful answer to this question. He describes the difference between the laziness of the sluggard and the restfulness of the diligent.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.