• Steven Marsh

Worshipping The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Love? But, Please! No Change!: a Reflection o

We all yearn to know the unconditional love of God. God came to earth in the form of a man. This man was Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are sustained by God’s love in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Advent is a time of hope and peace.

Our lives are made to worship the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s right, you and I are encountered by the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all that we know as life. My preferences get in the way of God.  To be honest, I want to go to church on my terms, when it’s convenient. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love God, worship and being involved in God’s mission and truly love people. But, all of that does not come as naturally as wanting to play golf, reading, sleeping in or just hanging out with friends. Loving God and others requires obedience and a preference for being with God and Christians in community because of the higher value-added experience than some of the other things I place so much importance on. A full vision of worship envelopes all aspects of our lives: home, family, work, imagination, leisure, birth and death. Worship brings us face to face with God, the one who loves us the most and knows us the best. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “One of the greatest challenges of our generation is that people make choices based almost exclusively on preferences…They may not understand that worship in community is more about us than about me.”[1]

Moving from an individualistic understanding and experience of God to one that places a higher value on the community experience of God requires a change of mind. San Francisco Theological Seminary Trustee, The Rev. Aimee Moiso writes, “The science of changing minds is complicated. We humans change our minds constantly — about what we want for dinner, whether to walk or drive, how much to spend. But we are also creatures of habit, and laziness can hold more sway than novelty. A deluge of facts will rarely shift our thinking, but a well-told story can transform our vision.”[2]The texts in Philippians, Luke and Malachi tell a story of and speak to the change which can occur in the core of our being, because of God’s unconditional love for us and our love for God and others.

You see, it’s God’s love for us which motivates us to love that makes change possible and normal. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “Normal is something that occurs naturally: a pattern for how things should be. Describing something as normal implies it is regular and natural not only for us but for the people around us as well. We use the word normal to describe not only what is but what should be natural for everyone. We are comforted by normal. We assimilate to normal. There is a lot of power in naming something as normative.”[3]The peace promised by God is good news even though there is a level of uneasiness in it. God loves us in and through change. But real change is a matter of core beliefs and actions, not appearances. Have you ever heard of this British product, “Spray-on-Mud?” Citing an article on the website guardian.co.uk in 2005,

Many products are designed to imitate the real thing. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood. Vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. What about a can of Spray-on Mud? Spray-on Mud is designed for use on the outside of your SUV. That way it appears you use your vehicle for more than taking the kids to soccer practice. Spray it on and friends might think you’ve just returned from a wilderness adventure. Sales of the product are going well, especially in London where the concept originated. “If they want an authentic look,” says inventor Colin Dowse, “There’s not a lot else they can do. There’s not a lot of mud in Chelsea.” Apparently, $15 a can seems a reasonable price for the appearance of authenticity.[4]

So, I often experience in my own life and see in others, expressions of imitation Christianity: good wishes mistaken for prayer, success misconstrued as spiritual achievement, inspirational bumper stickers and symbols seen as evangelism, excellent music cover for authentic worship of the heart, humorous or emotional stories pass for inspired preaching, Christian clichés handed out as biblical wisdom and an attractive personality mistaken for a Spirit-filled life.[5]

Friends, we need Jesus, the one who embodies God’s love and shows us the way to love God and others. Change is real when we embrace love, not judgment. We worship God in the light of the real Jesus not a “Spray-on Jesus.” Again, Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “As long as our worship makes people feel excluded or in constant visitor status, we are not accomplishing the ministry of biblical hospitality.”[6]Who is this welcoming, inclusive and loving Jesus? Well, it’s not the “Spray-on…”

Political Party Republican Jesus, who is against tax increases and activist judges, for family values and owning firearms or the Political Party Democrat Jesus, who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.

Revolutionary Jesus, who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on “the system.”

Good Example Jesus, who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.[7]

The welcoming, inclusive and loving Jesus is…

the Son of the living God. God in the flesh; the one to establish God’s reign and rule; the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim Good News to the poor; the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a New Creation.

the Christ predicted through the Prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist, not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God.[8]

Jesus is calling each of us by name. When you respond to God’s calling, it is good news for the world. You then represent what a human can look and behave like as envisioned in God’s desire. Believe in Jesus Christ. Repent. Change is possible. Really! This is the good news of Advent.[9]

[1]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 27.

[2]Aimee Moiso, “Changing Minds” in Saving Love & Tender Mercy: Daily Devotions For Advent 2018(San Anselmo, California: SFTS on Sunday, December 9, 2018).

[3]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, 39.

[4]Taken from the PreachingToday.com website; Ian Sample, “Spray on Mud: The Ultimate Accessory for City 4×4 Drivers” (www.guardian.co.uk June 14, 2005).

[5]Ibid.

[6]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, 63.

[7]Adapted from Kevin Young, “Who Do You Say That I Am?” from his DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed blog (posted June 10, 2009).

[8]Ibid.

[9]This paragraph was influenced by Alan Gregory 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), 19-20.

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