Room-Shaking Prayer, Acts 4:31

I like this Bible verse.

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” — Acts 4:31 (ESV).

Awesome, right?

I would love to experience room-shaking prayer in my lifetime. I have been in some intense community prayers, but none quite like what is described here. Fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit aside, I would be content to be in a room where the room is shaken by natural means — pure volume and foot-stomping as bold saints take part in a full-throated, raucous harmony.

However, the supernatural element to this passage is significant, and speaks more to our hope for the future.

Here is a selection from Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage.

“God gave them a sign of the acceptance of their prayers (v. 31): When they had prayed (perhaps many of them prayed successively), one by one, according to the rule (1 Co. 14:31), and when they had concluded the work of the day, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; there was a strong mighty wind, such as that when the Spirit was poured out upon them (ch. 2:1, 2), which shook the house, which was now their house of prayer. This shaking of the place was designed to strike an awe upon them, to awaken and raise their expectations, and to give them a sensible token that God was with them of a truth: and perhaps it was to put them in mind of that prophecy (Hag. 2:7), I will shake all nations, and will fill this house with glory. This was to show them what reason they had to fear God more, and then they would fear man less. He that shook this place could make the hearts of those who threatened his servants thus to tremble, for he cuts off the spirit of princes, and is terrible to the kings of the earth. The place was shaken, that their faith might be established and unshaken.”

May we take to heart such a “sensible token,” and others given in scripture, to bolster our unshakable faith and raise our expectations beyond the worldly. May we experience such a walk with Christ that we awaken to his presence, that we fear man less and fear God more.

Matthew Poole reflects on this verse as well: “In their difficulties and wants, the greatest and holiest in the church of God must go to God to be supplied, and prayer is the most successful means.” Has this not always been true?

Although I believe we should leave generous room for the unfathomable spaces God occupies beyond our mind, Christianity need not be some complex collection of impenetrable knowledge. We know the spiritual disciplines, we know we should read our Bible and pray. This has been our standard practice for millennia and will continue to be, rightly so. Even sticking to just “the basics” enables powerful work and discipling. Beware those that would teach a new and more complicated walk. Should we not have faith like a child’s?

Pray.

The phrase “were shaken” in Acts 4:31 is translated from the Greek word saleuō (σαλεύω) in the original text. This same term is used in Acts 16:26, “and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.” (ESV, emphasis mine). In that story, Paul and Silas then have a fruitful encounter with the jailer. In this, we continue to see a cycle of prayer and answer for believers. Throughout the Biblical narrative and our own, we can see a chain of steadfast deliverance. Ultimately, God’s providence will be eternal and glorious!

To believe in God, and to follow Christ, is to believe in a layer of reality beyond our physical Earthly world (2 Corinthians 4:18!). We believe in an intelligent Creator of the universe, we speak of a Holy Ghost that we have a close relationship with, and we worship a man-deity who rose from the grave. I am prone to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our empirical earthbound journey, so I appreciate the reminders of a greater truth out there, scriptural or otherwise.

That Truth has a name: Jesus, and I am part of his plan. I really do hope and pray that, wherever I may go, God would shake things up.

The Dinner Prayer

The dinner prayer is a Christian tradition that I like.

I grew up in a household that practiced dinner prayer. My dad would lead us, before the meal. I can still hear his tone, his cadence, even a certain phrase within the whole: “Be with us in the days and weeks to come, at work and at play, and let us be ever mindful of your will.”

I know many families practice the dinner prayer, and in many different ways. Some bow privately, while others reach out and hold hands. It can be silent, quiet, loud. Some add a devotional reading, or even sing. You may notice some that pray in restaurants or other public places before they eat.

I pray before dinner with my own family. I think it’s nice to set that expectation, that discipline. No matter how poorly my prayer life may be going on my own, I am at least going to address my Father once that evening. It is a time for the family to come together, face-to-face, after their respective days. As with any other prayer, it is an opportunity to voice our concerns and thanks to God, our praise and our apologies.

It is not quite a sacrament, but the sentiment is largely echoed in communion, which originated with the Last Supper, held by Jesus with his disciples shortly before his crucifixion and told across the gospels. Here is the version found in Mark 14 (ESV):

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

I believe the dinner prayer has value, and a great place within the spiritual motions of a Christian family (or on one’s own!). I hope it is a tradition that continues for countless generations to come. If I can lead my children to lead such prayers with their own families in the future, I will count that as a victory.

Any opportunity we have to commune with the Lord is a good one, and the dinner prayer is a great, tangible way to live out scriptural truths: Where two or more of you are gathered, as iron sharpens iron, man shall not live by bread alone, etc.

But my favorite passage about sharing meals is likely Acts 2:42 (ESV):

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Simple. True. Worthy.

May we continue to devote ourselves similarly.

The Gospel: A Summary and Starting Point

I believe the Gospel is the most important truth you can know. I think it is the central message of God’s Word to us, the Bible.

If I had to summarize it, here is my attempt:

“The Gospel is the good news that, although God is holy (meaning he doesn’t tolerate sin in his presence), and I am a sinner (meaning he wouldn’t tolerate me in his presence), God loves me. He wants a relationship with me. So he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to Earth, born as a human baby. Jesus lived a sinless, perfect life — until he died on a cross. He died on that cross for my sins, in my place, taking the punishment that I deserve. Days later he resurrected, back to life, defeating death itself (which gives me hope!). Then he ascended to Heaven, where he now invites​ me to join him, in glory, for eternity, as a free faith gift of salvation.”

If I had to put it into four words: “People sin, Jesus saves.”

Whenever you discuss the collision between our sin and our Savior, the nature of humanity vs. the nature of God, you are discussing the Gospel. The work of Christ to restore that great conflict unfolds into the most beautiful story.

Few truths will still be relevant billions of years from now, but the Gospel is knowledge that stands the test of eternity.

The Gospel rewards exploration richly. I think it should be the guiding principle of my life. The Gospel should not just be a piece of wisdom I am aware of, but the bedrock of my faith lived actively. It should color my relationships, affect my decisions, and filter my perception.

One good fact about the Gospel is that, although Christianity has many terms born from the minds of theologians and only defined within the past few centuries, the Gospel is not among them. Scripture itself refers to the Gospel, usually in the context that we are called to share it.

But if my own understanding of what the Gospel is ever fails me, included too is the tidy summary we find in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

I am convinced that laboring on behalf of the Gospel is worthy work. Much more could be written on it, and I hope to take part. May we strive for its spread and remain unashamed, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

What would our Christian life look like if we truly strove to love people like Jesus does?

Bob Goff is a man who writes with a gentle storytelling ease, but he is staunchly firm in this conviction: Love is not just a feeling. It is not a thought. Love is an active force that demands our participation. Love is not merely the willful decision to love someone, but the risky and sacrificial step of actually stepping out of our comfort zone to really do something about it. In short: Love does.

And in the book Love Does, Goff supports this thesis through a series of first-person stories, told breezily yet always compellingly. While calling the author Goff would better fit the critical standard, I get the sense that he would prefer that I call him Bob. So I will.

Bob is a courageous man of adventure, a Jesus-following lawyer with a family he loves fiercely, and someone who still maintains a measure of whimsy in his spirit. His tales travel from oceans to mountains, from Hawaii to Uganda, from broken-down cars to the finest meals, from romance to youthful indiscretion.

Do you remember the Chicken Soup books? Chicken Soup for the Soul. Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. Chicken Soup for the Accountant’s SoulChicken Soup for the Soul of a Church Plant Pastor Who Also Dabbles in Oil Pantings. I would compare the structure and tone of Love Does to a Chicken Soup book, except that it’s less like chicken soup and more like a can of beans heated over a campfire, or a few granola bars stuffed into a backpack on the way out your door.

Each chapter of Love Does begins with a little lesson Bob has learned, then proceeds with the experience that taught him. A few themes emerge consistently: You can achieve grand results when you step out in faith without a plan. When you love people like Jesus does, not everyone will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and that’s okay. A crucial component of Christian ministry is to be intentional in who you surround yourself and lock arms with.

I hesitate to call this “my one critique,” but something I did feel in my reading was the impression that Bob writes so conversationally, so informally, that if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide on how to love people more intentionally, I imagine many of the stories are not directly relatable — when Bob talks about taking his kids out of school to fly to Europe, or purchasing a fine painting just because he really likes it (even though it costs more than most of his cars), or living in a neighborhood where someone gives his son a truck as a gift, you may experience a disconnect. Maybe this is not an issue for most readers; but if it was, I think Bob would encourage the truth that you can live a lovingly adventuresome life no matter what stage you’re in, because it’s simply about trying to live like Christ.

This is the great feat of the book: By emphasizing the simple-yet-profound idea of loving people like Jesus loves people, Bob writes within a framework that is theologically unassailable. This work is not a dusty tome that dives headlong into the weeds of scriptural analysis and longform religiosity; rather, it sneaks Biblical messages into casual tales. For example, I was struck by the cleverness of a chapter all about performing loving deeds in secret, yet not once does it cite Jesus’s direct support for this line of thinking in Matthew 6. In fact, Love Does is not real big on citing specific verses at all, yet the references are there nonetheless.

Out of context, this may sound like a bad thing. “What do you mean it doesn’t cite the Bible when talking about Jesus?” But if you can imagine sitting with an acquaintance and teaching them by way of example, by way of story and analogy (similar to how Christ taught), you can appreciate the efficacy at work here.

The conversational tone, the use of storytelling over scripture, and the supposed simplicity of its ideas may lend one to believe that Love Does is best suited for young Christians. But let me be clear, and honest: Even the most ‘veteran’ Christian can use a refresher on loving like Jesus, and this book will touch anyone who is just seeking more out of their walk of faith. At the very least, it is entertaining.

Bob has a love for what he calls capers, these maybe-a-bit-mischievous adventures (and misadventures!) we launch into without much forethought, that may involve some danger and some very trusting friends, and result in a story that relays a truthful lesson. He is a fan of whimsy, and creativity, and stepping out of the norm.

On a personal note: This speaks to me. I used to be a capers guy. I’ve been in ministry settings where I was notorious for always being the last one in bed and the first one up, for having more energy than sense, and for sometimes waking up on a Saturday morning in the middle of a field or on a rooftop trying to remember how I got there.

It’s encouraging, then, to be reminded that even as an Adult with a day job and a family, there is still room for whimsy and lighthearted excitement in my faith. Jesus was not content to follow the same everyday routine of waking up, going to work, coming home, then watching TV before falling asleep. Neither will I be.

I would recommend Love Does for any Christian, really. It is an easy read that communicates truth through enjoyable stories. It is a call to action that tugs at the heart. It will speak especially well to anyone who just wants to love people like Jesus does, and is willing to start stepping out of their safety net in order to do so.

Fear of the Lord, Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” — Proverbs 9:10 (ESV), emphasis mine.

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If I could summarize the Gospel in four words: “People sin, Jesus saves.” There may be a little more to it, but in order to understand and embrace the Gospel, you must understand and embrace that 1) human beings are sinful and 2) Jesus Christ is their one hope at life.

The Gospel is the central message of the Bible, the hinge on which the entire book turns. Proverbs 9:10 is one of those beautiful verses that supports and illuminates the Gospel, bridging the Old Testament to the New while offering spiritual insight that is relevant to our daily living.

It is also a wonderful exercise in contending with a passage that may, at first, seem unintuitive. After all, if we view the Lord as our friend and advocate, the one who saves and heals, our hope and our light — why on Earth should we feel fear in our approach?

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We all want wisdom, right?

It can be difficult to define, much less truly grasp. I think my favorite way of putting it may be, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is keeping it out of your fruit salad anyway.”

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“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

This line of dialogue, written by C.S. Lewis for the character Mr. Beaver in his fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, refers to the lion Aslan, the Christ figure in the story. It is a nifty little way to frame our perspective of God.

He is very powerful, after all. Able to create the universe, begin and end lives, set the elaborate course of his will into motion. If nothing else, maybe we should fear him because of his great power.

At the very least, it would serve us to be curious. What does such a powerful person want from us, for us? What is his motivation? His character?

Of course, God’s character is revealed to us in the Bible. We learn that God loves us, deeply and sacrificially. We learn that God is holy, despising sin and longing for our righteousness.

And, ah, that is the catch: In the Bible, we also learn of our own character, and that we have all fallen short of God’s perfect standard.

It is in this grand dichotomy that wisdom proves truly useful and fear of the Lord truly reasonable.

In His good character, he despises sin. In our fallen character, we embody sin.

If the story ended there, we would be hopeless, and right to fear God in every way. But because we can place our hope in Jesus, we understand that this is the beginning of our wisdom, and not its end.

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I should probably stop here, and cut this blog post off as a tidy reflection on a verse I am fond of. Feel free to take your exit now, yourself, if you would like.

But if you will indulge me, reader, I have an analogy in mind, concerning this passage, that I would like to share.

There is a kingdom, peaceful and prosperous, ruled by a wise and powerful King. The citizens of this Kingdom enjoy lives of unparalleled quality and harmony.

You are one of these citizens. You recognize your great fortune, to live in this great Kingdom, in the rule of such a great King. The King has managed to perform remarkable feats of governance and leadership, resulting in outstanding results throughout his territory.

His reputation is truly beyond reproach. All who deal with him agree that he is somehow fair yet generous, brilliant yet simple. Those in his presence feel his strength palpably, yet also recognize an inherent grace about his manner. Even his skeptics, after a single encounter, are stunned at the sincerity of their own conversions.

However.

You have heard a peculiar rumor about this King, and the stories about him tend to ring with a resounding truth. You have heard:

He abhors the color blue.

This sounds so unusual, for this figure of nobility and wisdom to harbor a hatred for a hue, but there it is. He hates blue. You have heard so many stories, from multiple sources, that he will not tolerate a shred of the color, even a mere glimpse. Apparently, he will immediately and completely obliterate any trace of it he discovers.

And the more you consider this rumor, the more reason you find to believe it. You see the castle he lives in, clad in rich golds and crimson, maybe the occasional ivory — but certainly nothing even close to resembling a blue. You see those whom he considers his friends, even his children, and not a smidge of blueness can be found on their persons. You start to realize that, within the King’s purview, the color blue is not really to be found anywhere in his sight that you can think of.

As you begin to reconcile yourself with the truth of what you have heard, you are abruptly summoned to a meeting with the King. The King himself! You are humbled, and elated, and nervous, but soon you are hit with a truly deep-seated worry. Wide-eyed, you consider yourself and your surroundings.

The color blue is not exactly prominent in your home, but there are bits of it there. You wonder if you could cover them, if the King decided to drop in for a visit.

You do not use the color blue at work very much, but it has not been entirely absent from your labors either. You wonder, if the King were to ask your coworkers, about your habits and behaviors, if it would eventually rise in the conversation as evidence against you.

You have noticed the color blue among your friends, but said nothing. Would the King meet this with disapproval?

How total is his intolerance toward blue, anyway? Will he mind if you once wore blue outfits frequently? If the color is ever-present within the private recesses of your own mind? Does he really kill, on the spot, those caught with even just one thread of blue on their person?

And as you prepare for your meeting with the King, as you sweat and try to cover blue-tinged stains and hide blue-shaded things, as you consider even the color of the blue in your veins and the specks of your eyes and the traces of your memory and the words that pass through your lips…

… would you not, in your approach of Him, feel a little bit of fear?

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“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” — Phillipians 2:12 (ESV)

“And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear…” — Isaiah 11:3 (ESV).

Two quick updates in Bible study life

Life is never dull, eh? I feel like my life is in a near-constant state of busyness nowdays — I am sure many can relate.

Right now, there are two oncoming changes in my routine that I am glad for, that represent a shift in how I will be tackling the discipline of studying scripture.

New small group study: God’s Devil

Our small group just received our copies of the book God’s Devil, by Erwin W. Lutzer, and will be going through it together. It is supposed to be about the place of the devil in God’s plan, which is clearly a tricky subject to tackle.

Spiritual warfare is always an interesting, compelling subject; although I have not really dove deeply into this particular book yet, it makes a rather provocative point early on: “You cannot have sound theology without sound demonology.”

So, hey, let’s study more about Satan. Sure, why not? A lot of Christians tiptoe around the topic, and that can be dangerous. So too, though, is the tendency of some to grant Satan too much power. Ultimately, Christ prevails. This should be an enjoyable course of study.

New at church: Teaching the Westminster Catechism to high school students

Okay, this is a big one. Since 2008, I have been helping to teach the grade-school students at church. It was just once a month, but it was certainly a consistent responsibility and a colorful part of our church life as a family.

However… that age group has always been a weakness for me. As much as I love teaching roles, and as equipped as I am to adapt messages for different target audiences, I just cannot muster a passion for facilitating spiritual discussion with 8-year-olds. It is not my gift. I recognize.

So when the opportunity kinda opened for me to politely say “hey um can I do this” about teaching the middle/high schoolers instead, I made inquiries, largely thanks to encouragement from my wife. And, here we are, I start on Sunday!

The Westminster Catechism may be a head-scratcher of a subject for many people (why the heck would you devote a weekly class to that? = a fair question), but I feel so good and warm about it. I grew up with the Heidelberg Catechism myself, so I am excited that this will even just be a great opportunity for my own personal growth in knowledge.

But even besides that, I am thrilled to be put back in a room with teenagers, an age group I have always had a lot more zeal for, and prior awesome experiences. I am looking forward to amazing conversations, along with my own gains in spirituality as well.

Fun stuff!

Songs I Like: Do Not Move by David Crowder Band

This song came to my mind recently. I really like it.

On Sunday, pastor Paul preached on Colossians 3:1-4. He spoke of the journey to live in a Christ-centered fashion, setting our hearts on things above, etc. At one point, he mentioned this idea of having songs in mind, songs that speak truth when you need it.

There are many classic hymns I enjoy, and other songs I could write about, perhaps revisit someday.

But today, I want to talk about Do Not Move.

 

Released in 2005 on the A Collision album (which is a superb experience overall), Do Not Move is a fun little foray into the sometimes-beleaguered Christian rock scene. Stuffed full of crunchy guitar work, synth oddity, and swelling vocals, DNM is a distinctive track — unusual, even. You can appreciate it at face value for its bold sound or consider its words for personal interpretation. In my case, it holds sentimental value as well.

It even has lyrics!

I don’t want to move
And I don’t think I could
I don’t want to move
And I don’t think I should
I don’t want to move
No, I don’t want to move
I don’t want to move
And I don’t think I could

Breathe in deeper now
Breathe in deeper now
Breathe in deeper, breathe in now

The costliest of costs
The deadliest of loss
The wonder of the cross
The breath of life that stops
The hope of heaven bought
The wonder of the cross
The wonder of the cross

Breathe in deeper now (the wonder of the cross)
Breathe in deeper now (the wonder of the cross)
Breathe in deeper (the wonder of the cross)
Breathe in now
I don’t want to move

I like the way the words play with dichotomy: Costly death set against wondrous hope. Think, move. Could, should.

For me, the themes of stillness and breathing bring to mind Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” This is a good reminder for me.

I first encountered Do Not Move back in my days as a summer camp counselor. We used it for a skit that a handful of us performed as part of the opening ceremonies for the overnight session each week.

My role was the part of a demon. Throughout our performance and its Crowder-fueled cues, my tale was that of a tempter who successfully captured a human soul, only for my evil plot and that of my demonic comrades to be outdone by the overpowering work of Christ, despite our efforts to beat and even kill the illustrious interloper.

Quite a story arc to cast against 326 seconds of background music.

I suppose that sort of raw efficiency fits within the grand tradition of Gospel Presentations Intended for an Audience of Youth, though. I always enjoyed those sorts of plays. Perhaps even excessively, at times: I remember being told one week that it was “a bit much” when I used black face paint to draw upside-down crosses on my cheeks.

If I wish to, I can remember the that stage in these opening notes, in that chapel, in front of a captive audience, trying to bring myself to serve earnestly in that moment, in that ministry. If I am honest, I can recall it pretty darned vividly.

Nowadays, I would just as gladly accept being ministered to, and it is in the day-to-day present labor that this tune can still play a part in my life. My stage is no longer in a summer camp chapel, but in my workplace, my home, and elsewhere, all the while still called to perform, in a way.

Ultimately, however, I am fond of this song simply for its energy, the way it… compels me to move (!). There are plenty of other musical examples available for this motivational purpose, even in the worship arena, but this one has stuck with me especially.

The wonder of the cross.

Gymnastic Jesus

I believe that Jesus encompasses more than we could ever fully discuss.

In my own modest attempts to encapsulate the Almighty, there is one particular tidbit I keep coming back to. If you have known me for long enough, this is likely a bit you have heard before.

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When I was a child, I heard about this idea that Jesus could do anything. I would hear this expressed in classic Bible stories: Jesus can grant sight to a blind man, he can walk on water, he can even raise the dead.

“With God, all things are possible.” This is the verse (Matthew 19:26) they unpack in Veggietales’ Dave and the Giant Pickle. In this segment, Larry the Cucumber is shown to struggle with this thought as he asked, in a way I found unforgettable, “Do you think God would turn me into a chicken?” Why not? God can do anything, yeah?

In an interpersonal sense, we learned that when we pray, Jesus hears us. There was no limit on how many people he could hear, or what languages he understood. This Savior we learned about was an all-powerful, limitless figure.

How could a child, a boy like me, wrap his mind around that grand concept?

… Honestly? Whenever I came across the sentiment of Jesus being able to do anything — I always imagined him doing cartwheels.

No, seriously!

I would visualize myself looking out the living room window and catching a privileged glimpse of Christ performing effortless, flawless cartwheels in our yard.

Why? Because I couldn’t do cartwheels. [ Still can’t, as long as we’re being honest. ] I think there is a lot to be said on the idea that we often measure God against our weaknesses (the Bible may even speak to this as well, hm), but as a kid, that was the illustration I gravitated toward for years to come. Jesus doing cartwheels. Because I couldn’t.

That’s kinda silly, right? Childish, even.

I can’t help but still think, though, I guess, just sorta wonder a little bit, if Jesus will greet me in Paradise with a deft little cartwheel. Can you imagine that? Just for me. Just to  delight me all the more, in a way only he could.

I can see him yelling “ERIC!!!” across a palatial courtyard, with an impropriety only an old friend could muster, before catching my sight and performing that long-awaited divine cartwheel, my Heavenly eyes watering with joy beyond measure before we embrace in a fit of fond laughter.

I mean, I doubt that’s how it works; but, hey, Jesus can do anything.