• Steven Marsh

Learning From and With The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Loving on Fumes: a Reflection on

It is true that we drink from our own wells. Yes, what you fill your life with becomes nourishment. So, if I read the Bible, pray, engage in life-long learning, attend worship, participate in a small group, give from my life’s wallet and serve others, I am filling my life with things that pertain to God. Thus, when I need a drink of God to sustain me, which I always do, the well is full. Think of the things with which you fill your life? What’s in your well? And that’s where grace comes in.

Hassan John, a Christian pastor from Jos, Nigeria, is regarded as an “infidel” by Muslim extremist Boko Haram insurgents and has a price on his head of 150,000 Naira (about 800 American dollars). He goes to his church each day not knowing whether someone will murder him in order to claim the price on his head. As an Anglican pastor and as a part-time journalist for CNN, the 52-year-old Hassan has often been surrounded by violence and bloodshed in northeast Nigeria. He’s seen friends shot dead or injured in front of his eyes. As a reporter, he has often rushed to the scene immediately after bombings. He has narrowly escaped death himself. Hassan said, “You see it again and again and again. You get to places where a bomb [planted by Muslim extremists] has just exploded. There are bodies all over the place. You visit people in the hospital. You go back and meet families, you cry with them, you console them, you do the best you can with them all the time.” But this violence and hatred has not stopped him from reaching out to his Muslim neighbors who need Christ. After he helped a small Muslim girl who could not go to school after her father had been killed in the violence, he started to reach out to other orphan children. Soon he was helping 12 Muslim women, then 120. Young Muslim men in the area are starting to ask if they can find help as well. Hassan’s evangelistic outreach involves eating meals with Muslims. Hassan explained, “Now in Nigeria that is a big thing. You don’t eat with your enemy because you are afraid that you will be poisoned. Now [in an attempt to share the gospel,] Christians build friendships with Muslims; it is just so marvelous.”[1]

Hassan John’s well is full of God’s grace. Grace always transforms us. But there is a cost when our lives are low on God’s grace. If our faith is in survival mode, that is, our well is low on “God,” we become discouraged, depleted and almost hostile toward God and others. As Gradye Parsons reminds us in Our Connectional Church, we mustn’t focus on what we lack, but on God’s abundance and place our lives and our churches in the place to drink from God’s deep well of faithfulness.[2]So, loving on fumes is a life that avoids change because its hard and holds on to fear because of the unknown. But God’s well requires us to risk and claim hope. Then, grace matters. The well of grace sustains us when we stumble and fall in the risk/hope process.

The decisions we make, within the 24 hours we get each day, matter. Just like filling up the car with gas matters. Cars don’t work well on fumes. Nor do humans. In 1 Corinthians 15 we learn that what we put in our bodies is either perishable or imperishable. That is, it will sustain us in loving God and others, or it will be short-lived. Our bodies are the temple of God. What we do with them for the number of days we have on the planet matters. Our lives, preresurrection and postresurrection, are freed from the fumes of sinful sources that supply our wells when we take seriously that faith in Jesus Christ actually joins us with his power, person and purpose.[3]Genesis 45, in its focus on Joseph and his family, indicates that the greatest act of grace is the gift of forgiveness. God forgives us. We accept it. And we are to do the same, practice forgiveness. Forgiveness fills our tanks with good “God stuff” for the journey. Not to receive or give forgiveness is like putting an intravenous line of 91 proof Bourbon in your body to quench a thirst. And Luke reminds us that life is not easy. Living with the mantra of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” will defeat us in the end. Seeking retribution is an example of loving God and others on fumes. Retribution is not life giving. It is life consuming.

Hassan John did not live his life on fumes when he was loving his Muslim neighbors and orphaned children. Loving on fumes has no love to give away. Robert Darden writes, “The more love we give away, the more love will come back to us, in greater measure, until it cannot be contained.”[4]Loving on fumes is not sustainable. God’s grace, however, will fill you with love overflowing. Playing life nice and being motivated by fear is replaced with trusting God in risk and banking hope on God’s faithfulness. Fumes are replaced with grace filled faith. What’s in your well?

[1]Matt Woodley, editor, PreachingToday.com; sources: Clement Ejiofor, “Boko Haram Placed a Bounty on Christian Pastor from Jos,” Naij.com (12-3-15); personal interview with Hassan John in Nigeria.

[2]Gradye Parsons, Our Connectional Church(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 55-64.

[3]I am grateful for James C. Miller’s thinking and writing in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 262-263.

[4]Robert F. Darden in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1, 269.

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