aliens

Aliens And Exiles (Part 2)

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YOU CAN WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE “Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile, so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Last week, I rolled out the idea that there are at least three things we should do as a result of being aliens and strangers. 

  • CULTIVATE IT – SO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’
  • OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR ALLEGIANCE
  • USE IT - TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

 We talked last week about cultivating it: being aware of how the values and standards of the world are not the values and standards of our true home. I want to talk this week about why it is important that we own it, and how we can use it for our good and God’s glory.

OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR WITNESS

What I mean by this is that we walk into that strangeness rather than try to avoid it. If we don’t keep it in front of us as a very present reality, I think there are two potential dangers.

First, we will begin to compromise the Christian integrity of our lives. We become comfortable in a world that is not our home, and eventually we will live by the standards of the world. If it doesn’t feel strange and uncomfortable, why would we avoid it?

  1. We hear message after message about how money and things are our RIGHT and they will lead to the good life, and how dare anyone do anything to take what's ours – and if that feels comfortable, it will become comfortable, and we will begin to live in that world - a world that is remarkably at odds with every biblical principle[1] about how to use and view wealth and things.[2]
  2. We hear over and over that we should follow our heart or be true to ourselves, when biblically speaking those are both terrible ideas.[3] We are to make sure our heart follows God’s heart; we are supposed to be true to Christ. Now, as God works in us, our hearts become more reliable and our true selves become more Christ-like. But no matter where we are in our spiritual maturity, we should follow and be true to Christ, not ourselves.
  3. We are told that we are free to do anything we want and nobody should tell us what to do, but those are not biblical notions. Biblical freedom is freedom from the enslavement of sin and into the freedom to follow Jesus. God absolutely tells us what to do and who to be, and we are embedded in a community of God’s people who are supposed to speak into our lives not just to encourage us, but to reprimand us in line with God’s Word. I am guided toward what I ought to do all the time by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the counsel of people around me who care about me. It’s life in the Kingdom of God. [4]
  4. We are told all the time what rights we have, when the Bible talks constantly about what responsibilities we have toward others because we are God’s ambassadors to people created in God’s image.
  • My culture tells me it’s my right to say virtually anything I want to say; the Bible tells me the tongue is a fire, and my words have the power of life and death, and that I dare not have bitter words come out of my mouth. [5]
  • My culture tells me privacy is a right; the Bible does not. If anything, it talks all the time about hidden things being revealed, and the importance of accountability and confession. Keelan Cook wrote: "Sin loves secrecy. It is precisely in these dark, hidden corners of our lives that sin makes its home. It lurks in the shadows of our lives, and when we discover it is there, it is all the harder to reveal those secret places to anyone, especially people in the church. Sin’s love of darkness continually pushes us away from real community. It seeks to isolate us from that vital source of growth.The church is a wellspring of life to the Christian, and as soon as we isolate ourselves from transparent, real fellowship, our spiritual self begins to shrivel. But if we submit to an open, honest life in the light of this Christian community, it will make all the difference.First, that light will reveal all of our evils and force us to confront them head on in the power of the Holy Spirit. That community will then be our helper, our fighter, our support in the battle against our own self and the grip of sin in our lives. Finally, with nothing to hide, we will come together as an actual community and taste the blessings of true fellowship.[6]
  • My culture tells me I have the right to pursue happiness; the Bible tells me I have the responsibility to pursue holiness, which may or may not lead to happiness. Some of the most holy people in history suffered intensely for their faith. They may have experienced a peace that passes understanding and even found the ability to rejoice in the midst of it, but that is a very different thing indeed from our culture’s shallow definition of happiness. [7]
  • My cultural values tell me I have the right to be in a relationship where I am independent and strong, and where my wife completes me and makes me happy. I saw a motto recently: “Fall in love with someone who doesn’t make you think love is hard.” Really? Love is always hard. It will cost you your life. The Bible tells me that I must love my wife to point of giving my life for her, because that’s what Jesus did. Love is hard. My wife and I to submit to, serve, honor and respect each other, not because its easy, or we complete each other, but because Jesus demands it. [8]

So, if we aren’t careful, we can compromise our personal integrity as followers of Jesus.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc9gfNW5otE[/embed]

"With love in your eyes, you confront the lies, the double standards, and the party ties, My one affiliation is with your name; to share your kingdom and to share your shame." - Rez Band, "Alienated"

 

Second, we can begin to compromise the purity of our allegiance to Christ. I have to talk politics here. Stick with me. I don’t really want to talk about this, but I think as your pastor I have to. This won’t be about President Trump or Hillary. This is about the reality of living as strangers no matter who you voted for.

Here’s what our political parties have in common: they are parties of Empire, even if there are Christians in them, and that ought to make us uneasy. We ought to feel like strangers at some point. Not always, of course. It's not like they can’t or don’t align themselves with biblical stances that feel a bit like home to us.

But the parties are not church denominations; as has been said often in the past year, we don’t elect pastors at any level. If nothing feels strange and foreign to you in your party or your candidate, you aren’t looking closely enough. We have to be honest about this, or we run the danger of giving a whole-hearted allegiance to something or someone that does not deserve it.

No party has a platform on the economy, immigration, education, social services, the military, patriotism, health care, free speech, gun control or the conflict in the Middle East that should make Christians completely comfortable.

Our political parties are not the church, even if Christians are a part of them. They use fundamental principles and ideals that are not formed or informed by Christianity. At best, it is a mix of Christian values brought by Christian politicians and non-Christian values brought by those who are not. It ought to feel strange to some degree and to varying degrees (depending no what a party stands for in different areas).[9]

There is only one place I can without reservation give my allegiance; only one man in whom I can without reservation put my trust.; only one person who is above any criticism I have to offer. That is Jesus Christ.

If I am not known as a man whose first allegiance is to Jesus and the principles and values of His Kingdom, I am failing to be the ambassador God has called me to be. We must own our strangeness, or we will compromise our personal integrity and our public witness.

 USE IT: TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

So what do we do as aliens and strangers? Peter is clear: "Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment."

So this awareness is not meant to make us disengage; if anything, it should motivate us to live as faithful ambassadors in a world in desperate need of the gospel. Here was the direction the prophets gave to the Jews in Babylonian exile:

“Build houses—make homes for your families... Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. Marry and have children; find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, so that they can have children. During these years of captivity, let your families grow and not die out. Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.” (Jeremiah 29:5-11)

That’s a very specific order for the Israelites, so let’s consider how this command has played out over church history in other situation. In the early church, Christians were very good at redeeming things within their cultures, moving in and bringing with them the peace of God.

Modern Christianity has done this as well.

  • Christmas, Easter and Halloween and Earth Day have a mixed history, but the church has always found ways to take cultural celebrations and direct them toward God.
  • We move into entertainment, entering into popular music and popular forms of storytelling and using that vehicle for the glory of God.
  • We enter into the flow of art and fashion and make things that reflect biblical values.
  • We are politicians (we have the freedom to support legislation the reflects Kingdom principles in our country); we are businessmen, students, teachers, lawyers, laborers…
  • We use the platforms we have to be a faithful presence. To go back to the abortion issue, I can post videos of ultrasounds (I did last week, in fact). The Senate might not protect a 20-week-old unborn child, but I can show a video of a 20-week-old unborn child. I can make my FB wall feel like home, at least for a little bit.
  • We can get involved in our communities. I can support Pregnancy Care Center and Single MOMMs ministry to help make it easier for a mother to decide to keep her baby. I can volunteer with Goodwill Inn or Safe Harbor or Thomas Judd to be involved in helping those in need. I can support ministries that show love to the world because they help to implement one of the most important values of home.

Christians have always moved into a world that was not their home and brought the redemptive presence of Jesus with them. In showing how one particular, practical thing could be redeemed and used for the glory of God, they pointed toward the reason Jesus came: so that we could be redeemed and used for the glory of God. A faithful presence that brought about social change wasn’t the end goal; preaching salvation to a lost world is the highest calling we have. But the faithful, holy presence knocked down barriers and opened doors to the Gospel.

That’s why we don’t retreat from our culture. We embed ourselves in it. The first Christians didn’t move out of the neighborhood once they became disciples of Christ. They were just aware, in ways they weren’t before, that all around them was a broken and dying world that in some ways was terribly at odds with their new citizenship – and it broke their hearts.

There is a popular phrase in exorcisms (at least in the movies): “The Power of Christ compels you!” In this case, the love of Christ compelled them to be deeply engaged in spreading the goodness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, not just in good deeds that will cause other to give glory to God, but using that influence to spread the heart of the gospel: the message of salvation from sins and peace with God. [10]

So our heart should be broken so that we live faithful, prayerful, engaged lives embedded where we live, and pursue the good of the city for the glory of God.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6VAy9y_iQ[/embed]

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[1] Mark 4:19 “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Proverbs 23:4-5” Do not wear yourself out to get rich;  do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Proverbs 11:28 “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf.”

Luke 8:14 “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

Ecclesiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough;    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”

Read more at https://www.biblemoneymatters.com/bible-verses-about-money-what-does-the-bible-have-to-say-about-our-financial-lives/

 

[2] One example of how we take economic ideas for granted: did you know the concept of retirement is only about 100 years old? Yet now we order our lives around it. I’m not saying that makes it wrong; it's just a concept we take for granted that Christians for 2,000 years did not. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/how-retirement-was-invented/381802/

 

[3] Jeremiah 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Proverbs 3:5-7 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

Matthew 15:19  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Proverbs 28:26  “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

See also https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

 

[4] Galatians 5:1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:13  “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. “

1 Peter 2:16  “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

Romans 8:1-4  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

See also https://clgonline.org/freedom-slavery-john-8/

 

[5] https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-the-tongue/

[6] http://blog.keelancook.com/2012/08/a-right-to-secrecy.html#more-736

[7] https://www.exploregod.com/happy-or-holy

[8] https://www.theknot.com/content/bible-verses-about-marriage

[9] Practical example: The Republican Party has generally stood for the pro-life values I hold, and often introduces legislation designed to protect the unborn. In that sense, they have built a platform that in this particular area has reminded me of my true home. But this past week, a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency fully funded Planned Parenthood after insisting they would divert the money to Community Health Centers. A Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks even though they had the numbers and the President said he would sign it. A Supreme Court that leans conservative right now keeps knocking down pro-life legal arguments, [9] so even if the Senate has passed the ban, I doubt it would have held up. Though the Republican Party’s official platform on this issue still feels much, much closer to home than any other party’s, I was reminded that I am a stranger in the strange land of Washington, DC.

[10] Look at Joseph, at Daniel and his friends. They stayed engaged, they got involved - but they lived holy lives in the midst of an unholy culture. What did Paul do? Moved even deeper into Gentile culture to spread the gospel. He studied their philosophers and entertainers; he went to their cultural centers. Then he used that to make connections with his audience to talk about Jesus (Acts 17).

Aliens in Exile (Part 1)

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LISTEN TO THE SERMON HERE WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE

But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received it. Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile,[i] so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul. Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

I like this translation of verse 11:

Divinely loved ones [loved by God], I beg of you, please, as aliens and those who have settled down alongside of pagan [unsaved] people should, be constantly holding yourselves back from the passionate cravings which are fleshly by nature [fleshly in that they come from the totally depraved nature], cravings of such a nature that, like an army carrying on a military campaign, they are waging war, hurling themselves down upon your soul…” (Wuest)

 

Strangeness.

I’ve heard people say before that when people outside the church look at us oddly or think we are weird, that’s cool, because we are strange. That’s….not what this means J It means we ought to feel like strangers in the sense that we don’t belong here. This world and this country is not home. We can feel it. We know it. I’ve sensed it in a practical sense before (Hazard County, KY and Costa Rica – two places I love but make me aware that I grew up in a different environment); I’ve felt it strongly in a spiritual sense too (New Orleans).

 I have also had revelatory moments over the years when God made it clear to me that I was living my life in a way that reflected a great deal of comfort with the values and ideals of my culture. I was living as if I was very much at home in the world rather than an alien and stranger.

  • Stuff (my comfort vs. contentedness and generosity)
  • Life priorities (our kids, for example)
  • Hollywood romance (love is always a honeymoon)
  • Projects over people (build reputation or build relationships?)
  • Working vs. surrendering (I can do it vs. God must do it)
  • Fighting vs. loving (“Put away your sword, Peter…”)
  • Here’s what you owe me (rights) vs. here’s what I owe you (responsibilities)

So God has given me plenty of opportunities to see the war that is being waged for my soul. When it comes to embracing our alien presence, I think we need to do three things to move more deeply into the holiness God has given us:

  • CULTIVATE IT – SO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’
  • OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR ALLEGIANCE
  • USE IT - TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

Next week, we will talk about owning it and using it. Today, let's talk about cultivating it.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhPVOyzZBqk[/embed]

 

CULTIVATE ITSO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’

Believers "must cultivate the mindset of exiles. What this does mainly is sober us up and wake us up so that we don't drift with the world and take for granted that the way the world thinks and acts is the best way. We don't assume that what is on TV is helpful to the soul; we don't assume that the priorities of advertisers is helpful to the soul; we don't assume that the strategies and values of business and industry are helpful to the soul. We don't assume that any of this glorifies God. We stop and we think and we consult the Wisdom of our own country, heaven, and we don't assume that the conventional wisdom of this age is God's wisdom. We get our bearings from God in his word.

 When you see yourself as an alien and an exile with your citizenship in heaven, and God as your only Sovereign, you stop drifting with the current of the day. You ponder what is good for the soul and what honors God in everything: food, cars, videos, bathing suits, birth control, driving speeds, bed times, financial savings, education for the children, unreached peoples, famine, refugee camps, sports, death, and everything else. Aliens get their cue from God and not the world." (The War Against the Soul and the Glory of God :: Desiring God)

Cultivating the mindset of exiles.

May I tell a story about all of us?

Our alarm goes off. We check our messages and catch up on last night’s scores. We watch the news and hear about the latest shooting, the latest memo, the latest #metoo moment as carefully chosen and edited leading stories direct our thoughts about our world. We head out to a job to make money and maybe get a raise or a promotion and make more money so we can get all the things we need – and quite a few of the things we just want.

 We turn on the radio on the way, and song after song tells us that money, sex and power are the secret to the good life – and most importantly, we need to do it OUR WAY. We pass billboard after billboard on our way to spend money on things we have been convinced we need because it’s important we buy and sell stuff if we want a healthy economy – and if we want to be happy. 

We go to schools that teach us truth is what we want it to be, and that birth control make sex safe, that tolerance is more important than truth, that science is the only source of truth, and that the only sin is thinking you are right and others are wrong.

We tune in to talk shows and news programs that insist we make decisions about all kinds of issues - immigration, taxes, trade, Wall Street, housing, public assistance – based on what’s good for me.

 We read or listen to what Oprah and Drs Phil and Oz say about how to parent our kids. We stop by for coffee with friends to get some advice about our troubled marriages or jobs or friendships, and they assure us that the most important thing is that we be happy, and that we are perfect just the way we are.

 We check our messages on the way home because Facebook and Google have masterfully engineered a product that relentlessly demands our attention, so we sit at the stop light and see how many people liked our last post so that dopamine hit will reward us one more time. We walk into the house doing the same. Our kids are so used to it they don't come to meet us anymore because they know our priorities.

That night, we plan our 401K yet again. We need X amount of dollars to retire well – and we are determined to retire in comfort and do whatever we want. We turn on the TV and watch a show about broken homes and sinful people played off for laughs. We follow it up with a movie in which we bond with the superspy who leaves a trail of dishonored women and dead men in his wake.

We wrap up the day by reading up on the voter’s guide for one of our nation’s parties, and if polls are correct, here’s the top priority of evangelicals in the United States: the economy (30%). Abortion was the least likely topic to be picked as the top priority (1%). When evangelicals (as a group) enter the voting booth, our money matters more to us than anything else.

Christians in the early church were aliens (passing through) and strangers (not at home) in their Roman empire. This has remained true of every Christian in every empire, including us in ours. Our empire, in spite of all the good things in its history, has values that are not the values of our true home. I googled “American Values” this week and found a very consistent core identified by colleges and organizations prepping foreign students, visitors, or immigrants for acclimation to American culture.

It’s different than if you read a list of the ideals on which America was founded, but I think it’s a better representation of how we actually live as a culture, because colleges and immigration groups aren’t trying to prep students for what America hoped to be. It’s prepping them for how America is, because for most foreigners, even Western ones, there is a real culture shock as they experience a clash of values. Here’s what kept showing up over and over and over.[1] [2]

  • Personal Control Over Our Destiny (we can do whatever we put our mind to do)
  • Freedom (we control our lives)[3]
  • Change (the new is valued over tradition)
  • Time And Its Control (Schedules Over Relationships)
  • Equality and Informality (vs. deference to rank, position or authority)
  • Individuality and Privacy (self over group)
  • Self-help/self-reliance (‘the self-made man or woman’)
  • Competition and Free Enterprise (competition valued more the cooperation)
  • Future Orientation/Progress (‘devalue the past and unconscious of the present’)
  • Action/Work oriented (doing vs. being)
  • Directness (no concern about allowing others to “save face’)
  • Materialism (getting things is more important that building relationship)

So here’s the reality of every day living in the United States:

  • I enter a work world that is influenced by empire ideals…
  • I watch the news on a TV influenced by empire ideals…
  • I turn on a radio influenced by empire ideals…
  • I enter an economy influenced by empire ideals….
  • I teach a class at a school influenced by empire ideals….
  • I hear a discussion of current events influenced by empire ideals….
  • I parent my kids influenced by empire ideals…
  • I relate to my wife influenced by empire ideals…
  • I use social media influence by empire ideals…
  • I think about my money under the influence of empire ideals…
  • I watch a TV show influenced by empire ideals….
  • I support political parties that are parties of the empire…

We ought to feel like aliens and strangers everywhere we go. Our problem is that it feels like home to us.

Gallup and Barna: “evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change…" African Christian and famous missions scholar Professor Lamin Sanneh told Christianity Today recently that "the cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete.”[2]

We have to cultivate our sense of being strangers.

  • Every time we go through the checkout line at Meijers and see the magazines that objectify women and thrive on vicious gossip, we should feel like strangers. If we don’t, we have to think about it: “Women are not objects to display; real men don’t objectify and use women; gossip is a sin; a mansion in Malibu is not what my heart should treasure.”
  • When we drive past billboards that use sex to sell products, we should feel like strangers in a strange land. If it feels normal, we should be praying: “God, break my heart for the things that break yours.”
  • When we turn on the radio or TV and listen to or watch the celebration of sin, that should make us feel like strangers. When Ed Sheeran starts a song with, “The club isn't the best place to find a lover, so the bar is where I go,” that should feel strange. When yet another song associates money with the good life or praises how good revenge feels when you key an ex-boyfriends car, we should feel like we are listening to the music of an alien culture.
  • When we hear language that is casually vulgar and demeaning, that kind of conversation should feel strange.
  • When we see commercials that insist things will bring us happiness....

When I was watching the halftime show of the Superbowl, Justin Timberlake started out his set beneath the stadium. And while this was the most modest show in years, by the time he made it into the stadium he had posed with multiple women in seductive poses. One person with us kept muttering to Justin, “Not your wife…not your wife.”

There was a person in the room reminding us we are exiles and strangers.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AWTPkdLRTA[/embed]

What ought to feel like home to us are the values of the kingdom of God. Because the Bible doesn’t give a handy list, I looked some up.[4] I am going to focus on one list in particular from the Evangelical Alliance, a HUGE outfit in the UK that also helped to found the World Evangelical Alliance that represents 600 million Christians. This is from “Eight Core Christian Values”, (ethos.org.au):[5]

  • Grace – giving people more than they deserve irrespective of the cause of their need and without regard to national, cultural or religious boundaries… Because grace is, by definition, an undeserved gift offered to someone who is in need. The gospels present Jesus as one who brought good news to all who would listen (the crowds) but especially to those who lived on the periphery of society: lepers, slaves, the demon-possessed, a paralytic, a tax collector, a young girl, and the blind. A life of grace means a life lived with those usually ignored or rejected by others.
  • Hope – Hope is the conviction that God… will always be with present with his people. Hope is an encouragement not to overlook the many good and positive aspects of life and to be prepared to take risks, not presumptuously, but in humility and prayer, confident that God is still at work.
  • Faith - Faith is an attitude of trust in someone you can rely on which mirrors the commitment that God has for his people. It involves commitment, fidelity and trust and thus stands in contrast to many common attitudes to relationships as short-term, conditional and uncommitted.
  • Love – Its most fundamental characteristic is that it seeks the good of the other. It is contrary to all selfish, self-centered attitudes. Love… involves choosing to love the unlovable, including one’s enemy. The opposite of the love is not hate but fear… Love exists most particularly where it is offered towards those for whom one feels least, such as one’s enemies, or where it is reaching out to one who does not, or is not able, to love in return.
  • Justice – Biblical justice… refers to very practical, down-to-earth actions which ensure that the weak, the poor and the socially disadvantaged are cared for, whether they ‘deserve’ it or not… Biblical justice… ensure[s] that the weak are protected from abuse, that the poor have what they need, that the stranger in the land is shown hospitality and that the socially disadvantaged are cared for. Even when this means giving them what they do not ‘deserve’… Justice is often interpreted in terms of seeking rights for oneself or one’s own group (‘we demand justice’) when biblically it is really an action on behalf of others… ‘Justice’ is not for ‘just me’. This means that Christians will be more keen to protect others than themselves.
  • Joy – Joy also comes from participating in God’s ministry in the world and from seeing lives being positively changed and relationships enhanced. Although it will never be the subject of legislation, joy is an essential social value. Society should celebrate that which enhances its corporate life but not when this is at the expense of other groups or nations.
  • Service – The call to serve one another in love stands in start contrast to the normal human desire for position and preference and all notions of ‘freedom’ where that is understood as the ability to do what suits me, or my family or group best. The notion of service calls individuals to lay these things aside for the needs of others… It shows that meaning is found in service rather than in self-centeredness.
  • Peace– The peace which Jesus gives is nothing less than his own presence in our lives. Consequently, his peace can permeate our lives, and he calls his people not to worry or be concerned about material things, for God knows our needs… True peace requires justice, and so no Christian can live complacently with injustice… Reconciliation between groups who have not been at peace is an essential dimension of peace-making.

I think this mindset requires cultivation. But God will be faithful: He will transform us by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).

We have to commit, with God’s help, to learning to see the world through the lenses of the holy. We pray for God to help us; we practice actively thinking through what we see and hear; we read the Bible to continually remind us what the Kingdom of God looks like, and what should feel like home.

My challenge: use this list this week to think through your day. Did you approach your day from this mindset of Kingdom values?

  • When did I feel like a stranger in exile today?
  • Did the news encourage me to think with Kingdom values?
  • What valued did that show/movie/song/book portray? Did I laugh and grieve appropriately?
  • Did I learn Kingdom or empire values at school or work?
  • Did our family interaction/expectations confuse cultural and kingdom values?
  • Has my presence in CLG’s church community brought the values of my temporary home or my true home?
  • Did my use of time and money reflect empire or kingdom?

Journal; talk with a friend or a spouse. Take a week to purposefully live as a stranger and alien. Next week we will talk about how to OWN IT (how it can move us deeper into holiness) and how to USE IT for engagement with our culture to the glory of God.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE INTERESTED, HERE IS ONE OF THE BOLD PREACHERS I MENTIONED!

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-7M7keoSsU[/embed]

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[1] The first three sites I found are the following. Everything I found after that added nothing new. The Six Basic American Cultural Values (vintageamericanways.com); “U.S. Values,” (Andrews.edu); ‘The Values Americans Live By,” by L. Robert Kohls, a primer for foreigners coming ot the US (The Washington International Center)

[2] Also “Key American Values” (International Student and Scholar Services, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

[3] Look just at one no the list that looks good – the idea of freedom. The Bible says we are freed from sin into the ‘perfect law of liberty’ so we can be who God says we ought to be in Christ; American freedom is freedom from any constraints to be what we want to be. Even a discussion of freedom – a case where the language of a biblical value and a cultural value overlap - ought to create a sharp feeling of strangeness in us because we mean very different things.

[4] (“What Does the Bible Say About Christian Values and Christian Life?” christianbiblereference.org)

[5] Also “Christian Values” at stahopebarrington.durham.sch.uk.

[i] John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 17:16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 11:13-16 “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

1 Peter 2:12 “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Ephesians 2:19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

 

Aliens and Strangers

John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 17:16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 11:13-16 “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

1 Peter 2:12 “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Ephesians 2:19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhPVOyzZBqk[/embed]

There is no escaping the idea that followers of God should not feel at home in this world. That doesn’t mean the world is not meaningful, beautiful or enjoyable. It just means that there must always be a godly discontent with the cultural status quo; a holy conviction that this world is broken and in desperate need of redemption; an abiding sense that we are what Moses referred to himself as: ‘a stranger in a strange land’ (Exodus 2:22).

When I was raised Mennonite, this tension was obvious all the time.

  • We dressed differently.
  • We didn’t have TVs or go to movies.
  • We didn’t listen to secular music.
  • We didn’t celebrate Halloween, and the cultural trappings of Christmas and Easter were very carefully monitored.
  • We were pacifists, and every President is the Commander-in-Chief. All who pay taxes give money to the military. There is simply no way a historically grounded Mennonite can participate in the political process without a deep awareness of being a stranger in a strange land.

I’m not saying this made us holy or better. There are reasons you don’t see this list replicated in my home. My point is that we were different, and we felt it all the time. There was a constant reminder that our ultimate loyalty was elsewhere, and that awareness fundamentally shaped our lives. It might have been poorly expressed, and it had a lot more to do with tradition than the Bible, but the message was clear.

I was recently talking with a Mennonite friend who said that this election causes him no more angst than he normally feels when an election nears. He’s well aware that this world is not his home, and that the candidates are not the answer the world needs. From his perspective, this election quandary is in some ways a blessing. Now the whole church has to face this reality, because the United States feels less and less like home for Christians. And the more we are reminded that our citizenship is in Heaven, that’s not a bad thing.

I have another Mennonite friend who teaches at a Christian college in the Bible Belt. He recently spoke sadly of the lack of students really passionate about their faith. There could be lots of reasons, but the bottom line is that he thinks his students are too comfortable. They've never felt different enough. They are too comfortable in an American Kingdom that is often very much at odds with the Kingdom of God. At best they lack passion; at worst they are leaving their faith.

But it’s not just college students who are losing their sense of alienation and exile. The church in general is struggling with this.[1]

"Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." George Barna concludes, "Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change." We have very little time, he believes, to reverse these trends... African Christian and famous missions scholar Professor Lamin Sanneh told Christianity Today recently that "the cultural captivity of Christianity in the West is nearly complete.”[2]

While I was reading the news last week an example caught my eye.

“Overall, the economy is the top concern for Americans regardless of religious affiliation (30%). National security (17%) and personal character (17%) also are significant issues. Supreme Court nominees (10%), immigration (5%), religious freedom (2%), and abortion (1%) are less important. ‘For churchgoers and those with evangelical beliefs, their pocketbook and personal safety are paramount,’ said McConnell. ‘Moral issues aren’t a priority for many of them.’”

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/october/most-evangelicals-not-voting-trump-beliefs-identity-lifeway.html

It’s not that Christians desiring economic health or safety is a problem. It’s just hard to see how to make an argument that the Bible tells us to prioritize money and safety over the protection of human life, just immigration policies or religious freedom. I’m trying to envision Paul being handed this list and asked with what things the church should be most concerned

I want us to wrestle with the idea that there is something about being a committed follower of Christ that will inevitably and inescapably reveal the chasm between our earthly and heavenly kingdom. It should be clear to us.

  • Every time we go through the checkout line at Meijers and see the magazines that objectify women and thrive on vicious gossip, that should feel strange to us.
  • When we drive past billboards that use sex to sell products, that should feel strange, not normal.
  • When we turn on the radio or TV and listen to or watch the celebration of sin, that should feel strange.
  • When we hear language that is casually vulgar and demeaning, that kind of conversation should feel strange.
  • When we see commercials that insist things will bring us happiness
  • When see the racism that still exists
  • When we vote this year, we should feel like strangers who inhabit a strange land, exiles not at home in this foreign land.

But we have to be careful. If this lingering feeling of alienation drives us inward or makes us retreat or causes us to lash out in anger, we are missing the purpose of this holy dissatisfaction. I believe God puts this reminder in us to motivate us to engage and redeem our culture for our good and His glory.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc9gfNW5otE[/embed]

First, our hearts are meant to be broken by the fallen state of the world.

David wrote: “By the waters of Babylon, we sat and wept as we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1) That was a proper response for living in Babylon. It’s not that Babylon wasn’t beautiful. It had the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders Of The World. It was a cultural marvel. It’s just that the worldview, the vibe, the moral climate was terrible. It broke their heart to see Babylon in contrast with a land characterized by the things of God.

How often do we weep for our American Babylon as we think about how far we have wandered from the goodness of the Kingdom of God? It’s easy to see the latest celebrity who makes terrible life choices and jeer. It’s easy to see political candidates and just get mad. It’s easy to read articles about how the world is descending into madness and get hardened and cynical. It’s easy to muster arguments for why the last natural disaster was clearly a judgment by God against some group of exceptionally bad sinners.

But that’s not the biblical call (and the last one’s just not biblical)[3]. We should be broken. We should be praying; we should be weeping for the cycle of sin that unfolds in so many lives including our own; we should be begging God for the salvation, healing and restoration of everyone.

Our hearts are meant to be broken by the fallen state of the world.

Second, our broken hearts should motivate us to engage.

When the Jews were in exile, the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, says to those He exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses—make homes for your families because you are not coming back to Judah anytime soon. Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. Marry and have children; find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, so that they can have children. During these years of captivity, let your families grow and not die out. Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.” (Jeremiah 29: 4-11)

That’s a very specific order for the Israelites, so let’s consider how this command has played out over church history in other situation. In the early church, Christians were very good at redeeming things within their cultures, moving in and bringing with them the peace of God.[4]

Modern Christianity has done this as well.

  • Christmas, Easter and Halloween have a mixed history, but the church has always found ways to take cultural celebrations and direct them toward God.
  • We move into entertainment, entering into popular music and popular forms of storytelling and using that vehicle for the glory of God. How many times has the Matrix been mentioned from this pulpit?
  • We enter into the flow of art and fashion and make things that reflect biblical values.
  • We are politicians, businessmen, students, teachers, lawyers, laborers…

We don’t retreat from our culture. We embed ourselves in it. The first Christians didn’t move out of the neighborhood once they became disciples of Christ. They were just aware in ways they weren’t before that all around them was a broken and dying world that in some ways was terribly at odds with their new citizenship – and it broke their hearts, and they stayed there and sought to bring the reality of new life in the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. They prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” - and then they did His will.

So our heart should be broken, and that should motivate us to engage.  

Third, we must remember the power of public witness.

Here’s the big question: what do people learn about Jesus from Christians? They can’t see him, obviously, but they can see us. And when they see people who claim they are being transformed so that they increasingly reflect Jesus, they reach conclusions about what Jesus must be like.

  • People will assume that what we celebrate, Jesus would celebrate.
  • People will assume that what we mourn, Jesus would mourn.
  • People will assume that the stands we take are the stands Jesus would take; that the things we call virtues or vices are the things Jesus would call virtues or vices.
  • They assume that the language we use online is Jesus approved.
  • They assume the signs we carry and the things we shout are a reflection of the gospel message.
  • They assume our attitude, our actions, and our speech reflect our Savior.

So how has the past month been going? If one of your friends was asked right now, “What did you learn about Jesus last month from ___”, what would they say?

Has our public witness strengthened or weakened the reputation of Christ and His Kingdom? We may be strangers, but we are called to be loving, truthful, and gracious strangers. Do we bring peace to the city? I don’t mean through compromise, but through our presence: our integrity, our words, our actions, our attitudes, the proper ordering of our loves as we model what ought to matter most. Has God been glorified in Traverse City because our lives can’t help but point others toward our glorious Savior?

Here’s my challenge to you this week.

  • Develop and awareness of being a spiritual exile, a foreigner, a stranger.
  • When this becomes clear, let your heart be broken for this strange land.
  • When your heart is broken, let that engage you; become even more involved in our community as you work and pray for peace to come to our land as we bring the presence of Jesus to all those around us.
  • Let your witness point toward the fullness and the hope of life in the Kingdom of God.

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[1]http://www.christiantoday.com/article/american.study.reveals.indulgent.lifestyle.christians.no.different/9439.htm

[2] http://www3.dbu.edu/jeanhumphreys/SocialPsych/evangelicalmind.htm

[3] http://empiresandmangers.blogspot.com/2012/11/is-frankenstorm-judgment-from-god.html

[4] “Borrowing From The Neighbors.” http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-near-eastern-world/borrowing-from-the-neighbors/