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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Joy–The Gospel Belongs to Those Who Are in Christ: a Reflection on Psalm 65:9-13 and Romans 8:

John Ortberg, the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, recalls this story:

FTT—my wife first introduced me to those initials. Nancy was a nurse when I first met her. There were many parts of nursing for which she did not care. But she loved diagnosis…of all the diagnoses, I ever heard her discuss, FTT is the one that sticks in my mind. Those initials would go on the chart of an infant who, often for unknown reasons, was unable to gain weight or grow.

Failure to thrive.

I didn’t know why it struck me as so unspeakably sad until I read Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, a book that has affected me more than any book other than the Bible…Dallas writes that although we have tended to think of the word salvation as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment, it actually has a much more robust meaning for the writers of Scripture: “the simple and wholly adequate word for salvation in the New Testament is ‘life.’ ‘I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’”

This is the human condition. FTT.

Thrive is a life word; a word full of shalom. Thriving is what life was intended to do, like a flower stubbornly pushing through a crack in the sidewalk. It is why we pause in wonder at a human being’s first step, or first word; and why we ought to wonder at every step, and every word. Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good. “Thrive” was the first command: be fruitful, and multiply.[1]

A synonym for “thrive” is “flourish.” When we flourish or thrive, individually and collectively, we experience joy. Joy, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, is an outcome of gratitude.

The psalmist gives a grand vision for the need for water. When we negate our need for hydration, we begin to thirst and eventually become dehydrated. And if dehydration persists, we die. When we have a faulty view of salvation and allow condemnation to have its way with us, we die within. We become directionless and entwined in self-pity. Paul states that to live under condemnation is not thriving. Jesus dwells within us. Jesus lives his life daily through the believer making a difference personally and collectively. Romans 8:11 reads, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Dehydration, through condemnation, is a result of focusing on the works of the flesh. Thriving, through the hydrating water of forgiveness and grace is a work of the Spirit.

Romans 8:6-7 depicts a non-thriving life as one without Jesus. A non-thriving life exhibits lack of joy. Three points for our consideration. Joy is available, acknowledge the non-thriving areas of your life, and receive joy. First, joy is available. Paul reminds his readers that they are not of the flesh, but have the Spirit of Christ living in them. Joy is available for the dehydrated life; for those times when our minds are set on the flesh. Second, acknowledge the non-thriving areas of your life. Paul is clear that a joyless life postures itself as hostile toward God. And third, receive joy. Paul makes it clear in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” To receive joy, we must know the giver…we must return to the source. God alone, the breath of life, the Spirit of life, gives us joy. To receive joy, we need simply drink from its source, God, through Christ.

God breathes new life into each of us when we admit the non-thriving aspects of our lives. We set our minds on the flesh by seeking life and meaning in our own desires and accomplishments. Geneva Presbyterian Church aspires to be a congregation who remembers, tells, and lives the way of Jesus. We are a church committed to worship and excellent music in both contemporary and traditional formats; fellowship to know one another and become more unified in our common commitment to love God and others; discipleship in creative formats where the bible is foundational to our learning about God’s message of redemption and new life in and through Jesus Christ; and service as we LOVE [saddleback valley] and the world in word and deed through local and global partnerships.

Live into the Geneva Presbyterian Church just described. To do so, we must experience reconciliation at many levels. Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, writes, “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.”[2]  Let me set forth the following initiatives to encourage us as we set our minds on the Spirit not the flesh and seek God to set us free from condemnation. Together, we remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus:

  1. Reshape and renew our children, youth, young adult, and family ministries to be intergenerational and missional;

  2. Engage and involve over 50% of the congregation, all ages, in a one-day mission experience at the Harvest Festival (multi-site) in October.

FTT? Failure to thrive? Not here. Not now. Not with you. Not with us. Not at Geneva Presbyterian Church. The Spirit of righteousness will set you …set Geneva Presbyterian Church free from the oppression of condemnation! Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, writes, “Sharing stories is a central skill in community building…When people exchange information, there are many unspoken attitudes, beliefs and norms that can impact their ability to communicate effectively. The ability to self-disclose and listen empathetically is an essential aspect of strategic storytelling.”[3]  Remember, when we flourish, individually and collectively, we experience joy.

Expect Jesus to show up. You are free from condemnation in him. That’s good news. Blair Alison Pogue, Rector, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St Paul, Minnesota, writes, “Jesus and his teachings are not a helpful additive, like the protein powder in a fruit smoothie at Jamba Juice. Rather, Jesus the Messiah, God decisively breaks through everything that separates us from God and makes it possible to live the life God intends for us.”[4] Believe anew in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, yes, even now.

[1]John Ortberg, “Ministry and FTT” in, June 2008.

[2]Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 22.

[3]Ibid., 112.

[4]Blair Alison Pogue in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 231.

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