Children of God
by Rev. Randy Brown
A little boy and his grandfather were talking one day, and they were just sharing together some questions, and thoughts, and ideas, and just having a good conversation, father and grandson, when the little boy said, “Granddaddy, I’ve got a question for you.” “Okay.” “Granddaddy, what was the hardest thing that God ever had to do?” The grandfather didn’t know. Being the wise grandfather, he said, “Son, I realize that you’ve probably thought about the answer to that, so I’d be interested to know, what do you think is the hardest thing God ever had to do?” Sometimes we answer a question with a question, and that was his way of getting out of that that day.
The little boy said, “Well, I used to think that the hardest thing God ever had to do was when he created the world, and then I thought, ‘Well, maybe it was in the feeding of the 5000, or maybe it was when the children were in the wilderness and he parted the sea.’” He said, “Granddaddy, I think the hardest thing that God ever had to do was this. I think the hardest thing God ever had to do was to try to teach his people who they are and who he expects them to be.” The grandfather said, “Son, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. The hardest thing God ever has to do is to teach us who we are and who he wants us to be.”
Across the course of my life and ministry I’ve noticed 2 particular kinds of folk. One has a lot of potential, but very little motivation. I’m reminded constantly of the words of Bishop McDavid when he was my bishop in North Georgia years ago. He would say, “We need to be humble, but we need to be bold enough to think that we can make a difference.” Then there’s those other kind of folks who think that they’ve got all the answers, and that nobody can do it the way they can do it, and that they are large and in-charge.
I remember hearing the story about a friend of mine going to the Alzheimer’s unit at the local hospital where he was. He’s walking down the hallway and he’s speaking to all the people that are sitting in the hallway. Finally he says to one of them, “I’m glad to see you. I’m Reverend So-and-so, and who are you?” The guy stood up as straight as he could, and he got himself together, and he put his hand in his coat, and he said, “My name is Napoleon Bonaparte.” The preacher said, “Really? Who told you, you were Napoleon?” He said, “God told me.” All was going well until the guy sitting next to him said, “I did not.”
Sometimes we think that we may be God, but we’re not, for God is God, and God alone is God. The scripture tells us that Roz read this morning that we are children of the living God. We are called God’s children and that is what we are. We’re going to talk about that just this morning, what it means to be children of God.
Years ago, on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University there was a concert. It was the farewell concert. It was the last night of the tour of a musical team called The Judds. You remember them. You still see them from time to time. On the stage at Murphy Center mother said to daughter, “Wynonna, you, and your identity, and who you are is not based on the way you can sing, even though it’s beautiful. It’s not based on you being Hurricane Wynonna, which was her nickname. It’s not based on you being my daughter. The highest level of your existence and who you are is the fact that you are a child of the living God.”
And, I would say thank you, I would say to you this morning that what mother said to daughter is just as true that I want to say to you. Your highest source of identity is the fact that you are a child of the living God.
Names are important. In the early church they taught the membership there to give names to their children of spiritual giants, like David, and Andrew, and Esther, and Ruth, and Naomi. We don’t do that much anymore, but there’s a meaning behind each name, and there’s a story behind each name. We need to teach the children the stories of those heroes, and Cindy’s doing that and other folks throughout the church. Teach the children and give them those names that have biblical meaning. Nobody’s named their child Judas in a long time, have they?
But, oh, the Davids, and the Jeremiahs, and the Pauls, and the Johns. When we name them that, we tell them the stories. To be a child of God is a gift from God. We are creatures of God, created by God, but that doesn’t automatically make us a child of God. A child of God is one who accepts the gift of God in Jesus Christ.
I want to ask a question. Now I want to warn you. This morning in the early service, nobody raised their hand, not a person. Okay? Here’s the question I asked them and I ask you. Does anybody in the room still have a Christmas present from December that you haven’t unwrapped? Nobody. Why? Because, that day, probably, you decided that you would accept that gift, and you would apply it in your life, and you would let it benefit you. God has given you and offered you a gift; it is the gift of his son. To be called a child of God, and to be a child of God is to accept his gift that he gave you in his son.
We’re quick to unwrap the Christmas presents, and you’ve probably gotten some birthday presents since then, too, or you will, and you’re not going to leave them on the shelf. You’re going to take them out and unwrap them and apply them to your life. That’s exactly what we need to do with the gift of God that he gave through his son. We’re not just creatures. As we receive the gift, we become children of God. There’s a difference between paternity and fatherhood, and there’s a difference between that in the scriptural sense as well.
Because Scripture tells us in Romans 8 and First Corinthians 1 that we are adopted into the family of God. When we receive his gift he adopts us into his family. We practice infant baptism in this church and in our denomination. One of the things that was talked about at infant baptism is that the parents, and the sponsors, and the church dedicates themselves to living a life before this child that becomes the gospel until they get to an age whereby they can accept for themselves the gift of salvation, where they no longer are a creature of God, but they become a child of the living God.
First John 3:1 tells us that he calls us children, but not only does he call us children; he makes us his child. He adopts us into the family, and that’s when we really begin to live. He says, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” If when we receive his gift, that’s what happens, life begins.
Now I know that sometimes in our culture we talk a lot about when does life begin, and we talk about everything from the moment of conception to the moment that the doctor smacks the baby when he cries. You’ve heard it said, “Life begins at 40.” A friend of mine says, “Life begins when the last child moves out and the dog dies.” Life begins when God comes in: “If anyone be in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away.” You know, the scripture tells us and the children’s song tells us that we’re a promise; we’re a possibility; we’re a great, big bundle of potentiality. That’s what he’s given for us to be, to become all that he wants us to become. The hardest thing God has to do is to tell us who we are and who he wants us to be.
This leads, as the scripture tells us, to the purifying process. He wants to make us pure, but remember if we are going to follow him, we’re going to go through some of the same things he’s gone through. Life is not always going to be fair, and we’re not always going to be treated the way we want to be treated. There will be suffering. There will be misdeeds and injustice. He went through it. If the one we follow went through it, what makes us think that we’re not going to have to face it from time to time? It’s the process to becoming all that he wants us to be.
Now, as we are purified, there are some things that we can do that will help us to become more like him. The first one that I want to mention this morning is prayer. Prayer doesn’t mean necessarily that we have to do all the talking. Prayer is listening. Prayer is that scripture that says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
A man walked into the church on a regular basis. He went up to the altar and he knelt and prayed. Some folks saw him and they would kind of get a vantage point to figure out what he was going to do. They saw him as he knelt there day after day after day. He never moved his lips; he never made a sound. He just knelt there and he stared up at a picture of Jesus on the cross. Somebody said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m praying.” “Well, you never say anything. You never make a sound. You never move your mouth.” He said, “No, but I’m just looking at him, and he’s looking at me.”
That’s part of that purifying process. In a day where we’re going 90 miles an hour in our life, we need that quiet time. We need that surrender. We need that prayer. We need to remember whose child we are and how we’re expected to live. That’s part of the purifying process. Another part of the purifying process is to spend time in his word. I know that perhaps I’ve used this illustration before, but I think it’s like a good song. It needs to be sung more than once.
Have you ever wanted to meet an author, and you go to a book signing, and you want to meet that person? Sometimes if you eavesdrop, you’ll hear a conversation, like, “Oh, so-and-so, I loved your book. It was great.” Every now and then, the writer, the author, will say, “Well, tell me the part you liked best.” I’ll bet you, you can answer that, especially if you’ve read the book, right?
What if I were to tell you that I believe there’s a day coming when we will be standing inside the gates of Heaven, and the editor of The Book is there, but there’s also some of the writers. Oh, it may be Jeremiah. It may be David. It may be Esther or Ruth. It may be Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You’re going around like a person at a book signing, trying to get autographs. You go up to one of the writers and you say, “I really loved your book. Can I have your autograph?”
They say, “Yeah. I’d be glad to sign that autograph for you. By the way, let me ask you a question. What part of my book did you like the best?” Can you answer? What if Jeremiah were to ask you that question? What if Hosea was to ask you that question? What if Naaman was to ask you? You see, we’d better read the book, folks, because we may simply be asked the question, and I want to save you from an embarrassing situation. And God wants to prune us and to purify us by his word. If you don’t want to read, get it on tape and listen to it. Purifying us, that’s what he wants to do.
I’ll close with this, talking about purifying us. The story’s told about a sculptor who had a large block of granite in his studio. A friend of his went in to see him and said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Well, I’m gonna make a stallion, that beautiful, powerful, magnificent animal. I’m gonna make a stallion out of this block of granite.” He said, “Okay. I’ll come back in a couple of months and I’ll see how you’re doing.” He goes back in a couple of months and there it is in the middle of his studio, and it is the most powerful, beautiful stallion that he’s ever seen, every intricate detail. His friend asked the sculptor, said, “How in the world did you do that?” He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I just chiseled away everything that didn’t look like a stallion.”
When God wants to purify us, guess what God does. He chisels away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus. He wants to make us and to purify us through prayer, through scripture reading, through the other disciplines of the faith, that we might be like Jesus, because the day will come when we approach the judgment seat, and God will look at us coming down, and he’ll say, “I know you. You look just like my son. Well done. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I hope that’s said to everyone under the sound of my voice. You are the child of the living God. Accept the gift and use the gift in your life to bless others. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.