• Steven Marsh

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God–America Loves Big: a Reflec

“The cost of food in the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven, instead of the white bread of the world. Do you want it? Are you hungry? Or are you satisfied with yourself and your television and your computer and your job and your family?”[1]John Piper’s on to something. We’re far too easily pleased. Yet, Americans like life big. We want bigger and better things. We want to live a life bigger than life. We have an insatiable thirst for big, bigger, biggest. However, to live big, we need a mission for life that is bigger than our humanness.

Do you want the benefits of what the kingdom of God promises? My parents taught me to know that my life counted and that I was on earth to make a difference. They had me baptized into the covenant community of faith when I was an infant. They prayed for me. The Sunday school teachers and youth leaders at Millbrook Presbyterian Church in Fresno, California discipled me. I responded to God’s love for me in Jesus Christ in the 8thgrade Communicants Class. Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship, evangelism, mission projects, and social justice agendas characterized the culture of my church.

Every American knows that we’re entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is our national mission statement. Live happily ever after. Janet and I celebrated our 40thwedding anniversary in January What if the conversation went like this? Janet, “Tomorrow is our 40thwedding anniversary.”  Janet said, “Thirty-eight years of happy marriage.” “But we’ve been married forty years,” I said. “Thirty-eight out of forty isn’t bad,” Janet replied.[2]Being happy is not a compelling bigger than life mission. Happiness is fleeting.

Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, poses the question, “What indeed could change the tendencies of today’s civilizations?”[3]He writes, “It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience, in the actual attitude of man toward the world. It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, or new institutions. We must understand differently and more perfectly the true purpose of our existence on this earth.”[4]We need a change in the human spirit and that is a work of God’s Spirit.

1 Corinthians 10 challenges us that we are designed to live connected to one another. We’re not wired to be lone rangers. We need each other. As Christians, our differences are overcome by our unity in Jesus. In Luke 13, we learn that growth is the sign that life is being lived bigger than life. The fig tree was a mature tree given the owner’s expectation that it should bear fruit. But for three years the tree regularly disappointed the owner. The vineyard worker is ordered to cut the tree down, but asks for one more year to nurture it. Psalm 63 reminds us that the human soul yearns for God. The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NRSV originally meant “throat” or “neck.” J. Clinton McCann writes, “Apparently because everything necessary for the sustenance of life—water, food, air—gasses through the throat or neck, the word came to mean something like “vitality, life,” even “appetite.”[5]Thus, the “soul” is the entry point for all that we need to live a life bigger than life. Mark Buchanan relates the following about what is necessary to sustain a life that is bigger than life:

Imagine that you just found out you have a rare and terminal illness. You sit down with your doctor. “Is there no hope?” you ask. “Well,” he says, “there is one thing. Without this one thing, it’s over. But with this one thing, you will be completely healed. But let me be utterly clear: It’s impossible for you to live without this one thing. “What would you say? “Listen, Doc, you’re boring me. My favorite sitcom is starting in five minutes, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I don’t have time for these silly cat-and-mouse games. See ya.” Or, “Well that’s interesting. But, Doctor, that’s your opinion. You are completely entitled to it, and I’m sure it makes you feel better for having expressed it. But I resent your attempt to impose it upon me. I really don’t need this kind of psychological blackmail, this medical fascism. Good-bye and good riddance.” Or, “What? What is it? Tell me now! I have to know, and I won’t leave until I do!” Of course, the only sane response is the last one. If we are saved by faith, and if we live by faith, and if it is impossible to please God without faith, the only sane response is: What is it? What is this faith? You have to tell me! I have to know, and I’m not leaving until I do![6]

As the psalmist states, God’s “steadfast love is better than life.”[7]Do you believe that? Now experiencing more and more of God’s steadfast love is big. “Having a common purpose is precisely what made the first century church in Jerusalem so dynamic…the believers were all on the same page: they had a common purpose…all the believers were one in heart and mind.”[8]

What is big, bigger and biggest for your life, for you to live the way God intends it to be? Seeking more of God’s own self to define and motivate you. Randy Frazee is right. Having more of God’s own self defining and motivating us is our common purpose. Psalm 63:1 reads, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Participate in God’s mission of redeeming all of creation. Now that’s big.

[1]John Piper from the sermon “The Present Power of a Future Possession,” preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota (4-27-97). This citation was found on http://www.preachingtoday.com.

[2]Adapted from a story told by Tony Campolo about a conversation he and Peggy had about their wedding anniversary.

[3]Civilization, April/May 1998, 52.

[4]Ibid.

[5]J. Clinton McCann Jr. in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 66.

[6]Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen (Multnomah Press, 2002), 140-141.

[7]Psalm 63:3a

[8]Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 55.

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