Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Theology Lessons from the Car Rider Line

Had a nice little experience dropping Lily off at school this morning. The kids all tend to congregate around the drop off spot (or LZ to my military friends). I'm not sure why they do this. Maybe to get a head start on greeting their friends for the day. Since, you know, they'll only get to spend the next 8 hours together. Maybe they're watching to see which moms and dads are still in their pajamas so they can giggle about that for a while. (don't judge me, kid. I'm a grown man and I can wear my pj's if I want. you're in the 5th grade and can't do algebra. so put a sock in it) But this morning as Lily climbed out of the car I heard one of the kids yell, "Hi Lily's dad!" As I smiled and waved I thought about how having children changes your identity. I'm no longer just Randy. Now I'm Lily's dad. And Emma's dad, and Owen's dad. The old Randy doesn't work here anymore. He's been replaced by Lily, Emma & Owen's dad. And Kelly's husband. And The Preacher. And whatever other titles I now proudly carry.
Point is, our identities are often wrapped up in our kids. Introduce yourself to a fellow parent at a TBall game and what do you say? "I'm Owen's dad." Go to parent-teacher conferences and what do you say? "I'm sorry for how my child behaves." Not really. Hopefully. You say, "I'm Emma's dad." Who we are, our identity is wrapped in our children.
As I pulled away from the school I thought about being Lily's dad and how happy that makes me. Then I began to think about how God is our Father, but how different that is from me being Lily's father. I thought about the immensity of God, the greatness of His name and frankly, how silly it would be for us to refer to Him as "Randy's God", or "The God of Beech Street Baptist Church". In my mind I started writing a blog post about the transcendence of God, how He is so much bigger and greater and more amazing than anything we can know and how ridiculous it would be for us to ever even think of Him in those terms.
And then a funny thing happened. I was gently reminded of when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Remember that story? Moses is tending his father-in-law's sheep in the middle of nowhere. He sees a bush that seems to be on fire but it isn't consumed. Curious about this strange sight he went over to investigate. Exodus 3:4-5 tells us what happened next: 

When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Then he said, “Do not come near;take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 

God has Moses' attention. Notice how He introduces Himself in verse 6:  

And he said,“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God." 

Now don't miss this. God introduces Himself not as the Great I Am, not as the eternal Lord of Glory, not as the Triune God, not as the Judge of the Universe-He introduces Himself as Abraham's God, Isaac's God, & Jacob's God. This is a staggering account of divine condescension. God is willing to be identified as the God of His followers rather than just as Himself. Don't miss what's happening here. Of all the titles He could have chosen of all the ways He could have identified Himself, I find it absolutely amazing that He was willing to identify Himself according to His followers.
Now the point of all this isn't so that we get all chummy with God, begin prayers with "Hey Buddy!", or any such nonsense. And we certainly mustn't think that God somehow needed to be identified according to His followers. God is absolutely independent and needs us for nothing. The point is that we fall down in wonder at the great distance that God has traveled in order to come and get us, to stand in trembling wonder at what God is willing to do to bring sinners to repentance. To Moses He revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, i.e., He wrapped His identity in His followers. In Christ He would reveal Himself as Immanuel, God with us, and wrap His identity in the veil of human flesh and be born as a helpless baby. The fact that He's willing to identify Himself to Moses in this way demonstrates how passionately He pursues sinners, and how committed He is to His sovereign plan of redemption. God will stop at nothing in order to bring us back to Him. Jesus laid down His divine rights, His dignity, His very life to secure salvation for all who would receive it. Jesus has broken down that which separates us from God, He has brought us near to the Father. And He brought us near to Him by coming near to us. 
The gospel shows us that God has gone to unspeakable lengths to bring sinners back to Himself. So today, spend some time in awe-inspired delight at the greatness of God, the greatness of your God. And just as He was willing to be identified according to His followers, be willing to be identified as one of His followers.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Worst Trip Ever!

I read today about a guy who went on a mission trip that, while maybe not the worst trip ever, certainly had one of the worst beginnings ever. For starters, the trip began with dissension. This guy had recently completed a successful mission trip with a fellow missionary but when it came time for the new trip there was a huge disagreement about who should be on the mission team. Apparently the other missionary wanted to bring along a guy who hadn't yet proven himself. The disagreement was so sharp that they ended their ministry together and went separate directions, each with his own mission team.
Next, he was denied access to the areas that he wanted to go. There was no legal reason he couldn't go preach there but on two separate occasions, after praying and seeking God's will, he was denied entry into these regions.
Finally, sensing God's will to preach in another location, he arrives and begins to preach. After some initial success the locals get stirred up by his preaching and after falsely accusing and beating him they throw him in jail.
Put yourself in this situation for a moment. The trip starts badly. You're prevented from ministering where you want to, where you think God wants you. And then you end up in jail. How would you respond? The missionary in our story responded in a very strange way--with worship and prayers.
When I read this story I was struck by the dedication of this missionary. With all that had happened to him he didn't question God, he didn't say, "Why are you doing this me after all I've done for you?" Instead he worshipped. His response reminds us of something that's crucial for us to understand; worship has nothing to do with our circumstances. Worship is based on who God is rather than what's happening to me. We don't worship God for what He does, we worship God for who He is. He is worthy of worship. That means he deserves our worship. Not because of what he does but because of who he is. I want to be like this missionary. I want to be able to worship God, to glory in who he is, to drink deeply from Jesus and be satisfied in the greatness of who he is. And I want to be able to do this regardless of what is happening to me. Circumstances change. God doesn't. He is worthy no matter what we face.
By the way-the missionary in our story is Paul. Acts 16 records his second missionary journey and these are some of the highlights (or low lights) that he faced: a sharp disagreement with Barnabas that led to the end of their ministry relationship, being prevented by God from ministering in two specific areas, and being thrown in to jail on false charges. In the face of all this, Paul and Silas responded with praise and prayers. Jesus is worthy of my praise no matter what I face.