Thirteen years ago today I lost one of the most important people in my life – my dad. That means that today, I have spent half of my life without him. He has missed some of the most important moments in my life: high school graduation, going to college, getting drunk for the first time, the first boyfriend, my wedding, getting a dog and all the hard times in life when all I wanted to do was go cry on my dad’s shoulder and have him make me laugh in spite of it all.
But that got me thinking about the other half of my life – the one where he was still there. What did he teach me during that time? What do I remember about him? What was his legacy?
While I think I still have a lot to learn from him, for now one of the most important things he taught me was about God’s passion. But he didn’t sit around and tell me about what God was like or why I should believe in him. Instead, my dad became the living, breathing example of God’s passion.
Here’s what I’ve learned about God’s passion because of my dad:
PASSIONATE ABOUT FUN
My father was the life of the party. He was the guy who could walk down the street and make five new friends. Even if you were enraged at him, you could never stay mad for too long because he was just so busy having fun you couldn’t help but join in. But he was so much more than just a fun guy. He passionately loved the Lord – so much so that he took our family to Russia, a country renown for it’s frigidity, to live there and love the people into God’s Kingdom. Not unlike Jesus.
People came from all over the Jewish and Gentile world to follow Jesus. For his first miracle, he became the most wanted guest at every party because he turned about 120 GALLONS of water into wine! Talk about the life of the party.
My dad was also the sort of dad that you got really scared to be around when you knew you had done something bad. Like when mom says, “Wait till your father gets home and hears about this.” You want to run for the hills. Like my dad, God could be angry. I mean really angry. But when God gets angry, that’s a lot more scary than my dad getting mad.
Exodus 32:8-10 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
Wow! Is that a passionate statement or what?? But he was never carried away by his anger. He could be reasoned with and he could change his mind. God was not afraid to express how he really felt. He wasn’t afraid to tell Moses how mad he was that people were worshipping other gods instead of him even though they would all be dead if not for him. And in this case, he didn’t act on his anger. Moses talked him down. Think about that last statement for a second. MOSES talked GOD down. What?? God put himself in such a vulnerable position that he would allow a mere mortal change his mind??? That’s crazy.
But God was also passionately jealous:
Numbers 25:3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel.
Maybe my dad wasn’t jealous like this, but he was definitely a protector of what was his, which is a lot like the jealousy of God. God’s jealousy is not like our envy of things other’s have. It’s more like he’s possessive of the things that are supposed to be his – like our worship. When I was 12, some missionary friends of ours invited me to France to spend two weeks at a Christian summer camp. The only catch was that I was going to have to fly from Russia to France by myself because my parents couldn’t afford to take a two-week vacation in France while I was at camp. So reluctantly my dad agreed to let me go.
My dad and I flew from Rostov-on-Don (our home town) to Moscow together. Then, even though no one without a boarding pass is supposed to be allowed in the gate area, he haggled his way in. When it came time to board, he let all the stewardesses know that I was flying by myself and he made sure all of them were going to look out for me. Later I found out that he had also written some very strongly worded emails to the missionary couple who was going to pick me up at the airport and take me to the summer camp. Essentially he let them know that if they weren’t at the airport on time to get me and if they didn’t look out for my safety, they were going to have some big problems (and like I said before, my dad was not the kind of guy you want to make angry).
I also remember when we left America to move to Russia. My dad was very excited for the new journey and life ahead, but he was also incredibly sad. He was leaving behind his parents, brothers, close friends and the college ministry he had been leading at the time.
And God, too, has been passionately sad:
Genesis 6:6 The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
In this case he saw the destructive path that mankind was on and had to put a stop to it before we all destroyed ourselves. Thus, the flood happened. But God was so sad about this. He didn’t want to do it, but he wanted even less to sit around watching us kill, take advantage of and ravage each other.
But probably the best illustration of God’s passion is The Passion: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16) This is the single greatest act of love in all of history. And it was passionate. I’m not sure you can get any more passionate than laying down your life for your enemies. And we were and are still often God’s enemies. And yet, God made us heirs of his kingdom. He adopted us as sons and daughters.
My dad may not have died for the sins of the world. But he did give the rest of his life to loving and caring for the people in Russia. He spent five and a half years of his life dedicated to befriending, loving, teaching, exhorting and enjoying the people God had put in his way in Russia. Then on February 5, 2013, he did give his life for God’s ministry in a sledding accident while he was out having fun with some of the college and high school students who were a part of the Bible study he started.
The truth is that my dad was so dedicated to these people and to God’s Kingdom, that I figured that there had to be something really powerful and meaningful about this God my parents served. He was willing to give up his job, friends, family, position in the church to move halfway across the world to give his life for a people he didn’t even know. This attitude was a huge part of what convinced me that God was not only real, but that he was worth everything.
My dad’s passion for God and for God’s people was the reason I came to know Jesus personally. And a lot of the reason that I’m still walking with God today. That’s my dad’s legacy: his passion for God. It’s so powerful, it’s still affecting me today.
Even though he’s not here with me anymore, I hope his legacy will continue to work itself out in my life as I learn more about the Lord. And one day, I hope to be reunited with my dad and thank him for being a living, breathing example of God’s passion for me. And for now, I hope the Lord can teach me to be an example of God’s passion, too.