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Greater Part 1: Sic Parvis Magna

Enigmatic Growth Jul 28, 2023

For those who prefer to listen to the article here you go:

I work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes here in Charleston, SC. One thing we do yearly is we have a theme for the year. Last year, it was Every, which I enjoyed. However, for 2023, the theme of Greater resonates a little more for me in a few ways. A favorite video game series of mine called Uncharted plays off of the notion of great- ness.

The game series picks up on one of the most celebrated explorers in history, Sir Francis Drake. Sic Parvis Magna was a peculiar phrase he heralded, which ended up on his coat of arms.

The literal translation is:

Thus great things from small things (come)

The more common or modernized translation is what the Uncharted series used, which is:

Greatness from small beginnings

As I thought through the Greater theme, this motto from Sir Francis Drake came to mind. Also, the theme brought up a question I’ve pondered throughout my life, particularly in sports. The question in play is: What does it even mean to be great? Or what is greatness?

Within our theme for the year, a verse accompanies it, which comes from the Gospel of John 3:30.

30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

This is a humbling mindset from the vantage point of John the Baptizer, as Jesus was starting his public ministry. As I’ve embarked on aspects of doing public ministry myself, embodying those words in the scripture is tough. Walk alongside me as we wrestle with what it means to be great.

Small beginnings

If you’ve read the Bible and investigated Jesus’ life as explained in the Gospels, you probably know he was born in a stable and was from Nazareth. Nathaniel gave us insight into how Nazareth was received.

John 1:45-46 NLT
45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

I noticed throughout life the human tendency to give value or worth to people depending on where they’re from or where they go. The college scene, especially down here in the south, is scary how many people love their colleges. That’s not me trying to knock anyone, but I find it can also go a little too far in one direction.

I remember when I was getting ready to go to college, and by my junior year; I knew I was going to my community college. Quite a few people looked at it as a less than choice. I’m grateful that they never really phased me because of my parents, especially my dad, in this case. There’s a phrase that he would frequently say to my sis and me:

Your gift will make room for you.

With that mindset, I didn’t have to care about what other people thought regarding schools. I was on a different path, and you developed this weird confidence. The mindset is:

You may not know me before I came here, but you’ll remember me once I leave.

As I continued to think through greatness from small beginnings, I looked at the start of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It began in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1954 by Don McClanen. A quote from him is:

“For some time, I have had the idea of forming an organization of athletes and coaches in this hero-worshiping nation of ours. If athletes can endorse shaving cream, razor blades and cigarettes, surely they can endorse the Lord, too. So my idea is to form an organization that would project you as Christian men be- fore the youth and athletes of our nation.”

Alongside Don were three other men who were founding fathers of FCA, Dr. Louis R. Evans, Dr. Roe Johnson, and Branch Rickey. I’m a big fan of Branch Rickey because, for those who don’t know, he was the architect of breaking the color barrier in the MLB as the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers by signing Jackie Robinson. Read up on him and check out the movie 42 to get some insight into the character of Branch Rickey.

Who is the Greatest?

Jesus touched on greatness a few times within the Gospels. One of the many things I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t present the people portrayed in its accounts as sterile robots. They actually had personalities and acted like you and me. Take the disciples in:

Luke 9:46-48 NLT
46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

The thing about Jesus is He never condemned them for wanting to be great. What he did, though, was always redirect or redefine greatness according to the Kingdom he established. The standards of human wisdom and reasoning are incompatible with the standard of his Kingdom. Heck, human wisdom and reasoning are why Jesus came to die on the cross for us because of our sins, as stated in Hebrews 9:22.

22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Queue up Nothing but the Blood of Jesus right 🤷🏾‍♂️.

Service = Greatness

Jesus addresses the context of greatness in Matthew. He equates greatness with service, which is a more humble approach. Service isn’t natural for me... Lord knows it’s not. My parents and sis are much more natural to serving others. I’m a little more aloof, and birth order in being the youngest also contributes to that.

That’s a good thing for me because that’s where the Gospel has transformed me and affected my life the most. I’ve always wanted to be great in some capacity or the other. Sports are an arena where you’re always pursuing greatness. It’s a concept woven into the fabric of athletics and competition. The account in Matthew is where I’m convinced the essence of greatness lies:

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.
She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
22 But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”
“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”
23 Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”
24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I’ve always had the wanting to be great. This has made me grow in service ‘cause that’s the mark that Christ set for greatness in his Kingdom. With moving into growing in service, I’ve also grown in leadership, which has put me in places of leadership. I’m going to be upfront with y’all. I’m still perplexed and humbled that people want to follow aspects of my example where the theme verse comes into play, which is where I need to decrease while Jesus increases as I conform to his likeness.

A concept that was discussed in our growing up, based on this mentality of service, is that you should want to out-serve one another. An example my dad used to always say to men, and I’m paraphrasing, is: “Men, if you want to be the leader in your home and be great in the sight of God, out serve your wife.” Now, I’m not married, but the essence of that phrase can be applied to multiple facets of life.

The account comes right after Jesus predicts his death and goes into talking about greatness... that’s a weird segue in teaching, or is it? Jesus’ victory over death through the resurrection was and epitomized greatness. My favorite expression of Christ’s humble greatness is in:

Philippians 2:5-11
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,2:6 Or Being in the form of God.
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

We’ll expand on greatness in the next part of the series, where we find the G.O.A.T. is the Lamb.