Tollbooth Theology

tollboothA couple of weeks ago I had to drive to Topeka for a meeting.

I like driving to Topeka. It is a good interjection of quiet time in my week and is also not a punishingly large amount of “windshield time” to endure.

I chose to take the turnpike route on I-70. This meant taking my ticket at the booth at Bonner Springs and then stopping to pay my toll at the Topeka exit.

My toll was a little less than $3.00, but all I had with me was a $20 bill. So while the man in the booth was making my change, I decided to strike up a little conversation. The sign on the side of the booth told me the toll collector’s name was D.J. so I said, “How are you doing today, DJ?

DJ said, “Blessed!”

How cool!” I thought to myself. “A man of faith here on the Kansas turnpike!” And so, responding from my Wesleyan framework and understanding of prevenient grace, I said, “That’s great! Me too!” And then after a little pause I added, “I guess we’re really ALL blessed, aren’t we?”

This was apparently the theological intersection where DJ and I parted company. Without any hesitation at all he said, “We are if we know the Lord!”

By this point DJ had returned my $17.25 change to my extended left hand. And as I glanced in my driver’s side mirror I noted at least three cars queued up behind me. I really wanted to push back with DJ a little bit and explore his statement, but I thought this was probably not the place or the time. Besides, I was not sure the people behind me in line would appreciate being late for their appointed rounds because DJ and I chose that moment to engage the subject of God’s Plan of Salvation for Humankind.

So I politely thanked DJ for his time, wished him a good day, and motored off to my meeting.

As I headed off west, I could not help but be impressed with DJ. First because he was obviously an enthusiastic believer. Secondly because he had figured out a way – with a job that MAYBE gave him eight seconds of face time with any single individual – to make a statement about his faith.

And third, because as eager a Christian as DJ seemed to be, he was not pushy or obnoxious. If I had merely grunted in response to his “Blessed!” answer I am confident he would have let it drop right there.

But I ultimately left saddened. Saddened because the door that had swung open so graciously with his, “Blessed!” answer suddenly slammed shut with the tight boundaries DJ had decided to impose on God’s grace.

Last week’s scripture passage brought the reminder from God that, “I am a jealous God…” who is not at all cool with people who worship other gods. But as Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, “…for [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45, NRSV.

I don’t believe that God’s blessings are confined to those who believe. The blessing of each new day, the blessing of the miraculous human body and its intricate inner workings, the blessing of nature’s beauty, or a child’s laugh are showered abundantly on each of us, whether we deserve them or not… whether we express gratitude for them or not.

I do not believe that God sends blessings in greater abundance to us when we decide to recognize and worship him. That would make our worship conditional… as long as God delivers the goodies, we’ll deliver the praise. What we DO receive is the “peace that passes all understanding” of knowing there is a powerful creator and redeemer who loves us more than we can ask or understand.

And that fact alone should be reward enough, shouldn’t it?

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