(GPS) God's Providential Star
"Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed." (Matthew 2:7-10)
Before there was "OnStar, there was God's Star. I am a driver for Uber and Lyft. Uber and Lyft use more than cars to transport people. In Nashville, one can rent a Lyft scooter. In Monaco, there are Uber helicopters. In this story, magi traveled by Uber camel from Persia all the way to Bethlehem. The term "magi" is one of the most mistranslated terms in the Christmas story. The term is sometimes rendered "wise men" We don't even know if they were men. A famous Christmas Carol calls them "three kings" We actually don't know how many there were and there is no indication that they were kings. Magi, however, was the term for Zoroastrian priests from Persia or modern day Iran. These magi were fortune tellers who looked to the sky to read the future and provide daily horoscopes. Archaeological finds from this period tell us that Persians were expecting a Savior to come from the west whose reign would be marked by justice, righteousness, peace, and joy.
Meanwhile, Israel was experiencing "radio silence" from God. The last prophetic word had come 400 years earlier. The coming of a Messiah was a story few paid attention to anymore with the exception of a few old geezers like Simeon and Anna who waited expectantly for the Messiah and some mangy shepherds who reported an angel sighting and an announcement of baby born in Bethlehem.
As these astrologers from Iran gazed into the night sky, suddenly, a most unusual star appeared over Bethlehem and these Zoroastrian magi followed the star. When I look at the stars at night, they are so distant I cannot distinguish which state or city any give star hovers over. Yet, this star led the magi to the very house where Jesus was. God's star led them with pinpoint precision. It must have shown down like a spotlight or emitted laser beams to make clear this unmistakeable address.
As a rideshare driver I rely on GPS. It's amazing how accurate it is. I can drive to a house on a rainy dark night and pull into somebody's driveway without being able to see the numbers on their house. Somehow, God's star distinguished this house from all others.
When I drive for work I turn my Uber or Lyft app on when I am ready to receive rides. I get a "ping" when a rider that I am closest to requests a ride. In this ancient story, Persian seekers were looking to the sky when they got a ping. These magi got on their Uber camels and followed God's GPS to the antidote to their fears and the fulfillment of their lifelong hopes. The "hopes and fears of all the years" led them to an unlikely family in a tiny town in Judea.
I have now given over 5000 rides as a rideshare driver. I don't remember most of them. Some rides, however, are Divine appointments. I know what it is like to experience a ping from God's GPS. Following are a few short stories. The names of my Persian riders have been changed because we live in a dangerous world not unlike the times of Jesus.
Ping! I remember the exact spot where Sophi stood when I picked her up on Cumberland Avenue on the campus of the University of Tennessee. She was attractive, small of stature with brown hair and olive skin with glasses that made her look studious.
"Where are you from? I asked, sometime early in the ride. She lowered her large brown eyes, "I am from Iran." That's when I felt an internal ping. This was just after the 2016 elections and US/Iranian relations were at an all time low. I wondered how this graduate student felt being driven by an XL American man. I smiled big and turned my head so she could see my face from the back seat. I'm so glad you are in our country. She smiled and relaxed and we had a wonderful conversation about Iranian culture and what it was like to be an Iranian in our culture. I drove her all the way to west Knoxville where she was going to meet with her Iranian family and friends for a party of fellow Iranians. Bookmark this story.
Fast forward six months. I was driving in North Knoxville when I got a ping to go to a medical clinic. The ladies I picked up looked tired, happy, and disoriented. They were also olive skinned and their English was quite broken. Let's call them Aleah and Lila. Lila spoke better English and explained that they had just arrived from Iran. The medical clinic is always the mandatory first stop. I was their first American contact. They tried to ask me questions and I tried to understand. I asked if they were Muslim and they gave me the international sign of "so so" I asked where their hijabs were. They told me they took them off on the plane and were looking for a new life. I told them I was a pastor. They didn't understand the word. I thought for a moment. "I am like a Christian Imam" They smiled with recognition. We like Christians. I invited them to church and they came. I helped them settle into their apartment and they had me over to their apartment with no furniture and served my wife and I a beautiful meal on their floor.
Shortly after their arrival to the US, our government enacted a travel ban on all Iranian citizens which trapped these ladies in our country, separated from husbands and other family members. They are extremely hard working. Both of these ladies worked two jobs and have since moved into beautiful apartments with beautiful furnishings to match their beautiful spirits.
God's GPS brought us together. They were baptized and are an active part of our church today. We have become dear friends. Some of their Iranian family was already living in Knoxville. We were invited to a family gathering in Knoxville to meet them. I couldn't believe it. My GPS took me to the same house I had driven to many months earlier to deliver Sophi to her family party. Sure enough, Sophi was at the gathering and I discovered that she is a sister to Lila. The beautiful house was owned by their other sister Emerald who is a professor at the University of Tennessee. Her and her husband Imon are a wonderful Muslim couple with two beautiful children.
We are all friends now. They have all been to my church. I come to their homes quite frequently. They have been in mine. They have made me an honorary Persian. My Persian friends are quick to point out that the cruel leaders of their country are not true Persians but are people who came from the outside to hijack their country. Persians, are a very proud people with a rich heritage of kindness and excellence.
I also met another Persian young man named Ali while driving. He was standing outside of Stokely Hall on campus. I drove him home to his apartment near my church. He was not a Muslim. I would describe him as an agnostic "seeker." He told me that when he was supposed to be doing his prayers, in Iran, he was instead practicing his Michael Jackson dance moves. I invited him to experience American culture by visiting my church. He did and we are dear friends to this day.
Sophi, Emerald, and Lila's mother is still in Iran. I have only met her on Facetime. She was a Shiite which means they believe in Jesus and even in the resurrection. They are not far from the Bethlehem story. This Shiite mother told me that God led her daughters to my car that day. She asked me to pray for her son who was having social problems in Iran. We did and miraculously, her son has returned home and returned to his senses. This mother in Iran has completely followed Jesus and is waiting for the ban to end so she can come to the US and I can baptize her.
Not everyone in this story is a Christian, some are seekers, some are Muslim, but all of us are friends. My life is so much richer because I know them. Our conversations continue and my heart pings every time I am with them. I receive more from them than I have ever given.
God's GPS, however, doesn't just work with Iranians. Time does not allow me to tell you of Emma from Colorado, but I know where she was standing when I picked her up. She is now part of our church. Time does not allow to tell you about Chuming from China who literally told me on a ride, "I want to be a Christian, how can I be a Christian?" She was baptized and has since moved to Vegas for work, but we stay in touch. If I had time I would tell you about Monika, with seven kids who lives less than two miles from our church. I baptized two of those kids last week. We met because of God's GPS.
So after four hundred years of silence, a ping went out from Bethlehem. Matthew is careful to point out that this is not just a Jewish story. Zoroastrian priests came to Bethlehem and laid down their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh-gifts fit for a king. Jesus did not come to start a new religion but to save the world. He is more than the Jewish messiah, He is the king of the world.
Most of my drives are just drives to get people from A to B. However, if my heart is open I often hear much more going on with my riders that just the need for a ride to work. We all are on a journey to find the answer to all our hopes and fears. I am not the hero of these stories. I'm only the camel transporting people to Jesus-the true star of Bethlehem.
I can't ell you how blessed I am to be able to drive people from all over the world on one small part of their life journey. I get to transport people who were created in the very image of God. I feel both the privilege and the responsibility of this. Sometimes I even tell my riders, "it was an honor to be your driver today." Our life coordinates connected because of God's GPS.
After leaving Bethlehem, the magi were warned in a dream not to go back the way they came. I think this is true of all of us who have followed God's GPS. You won't go home they way you came, once you have encountered Jesus. Merry Christmas!
Rideshare pastor, husband to woman who is better than I deserve, and father of three above average children.
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Life Church Knoxville
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