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?
- 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 about how to use and view wealth and things.
- We hear over and over that we should follow our heart or be true to ourselves, when biblically speaking those are both terrible ideas. 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.
- 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. 
- 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. 
- 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.
- 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. 
- 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. 
So, if we aren’t careful, we can compromise our personal integrity as followers of Jesus.
"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).
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.
- The church took the iconic kriophoros, or lamb bearer, and used it to portray Christ as the Good Shepherd.
- The church used the praying figure of the pagan orant to symbolize Christian piety.
- The classic image of Jonah under the withered vine was based on the story and popular pictures of Endymion, a young man who fell in love with a goddess.
- A fresco of Christ as Orpheus in the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellus in Rome dates from the 4th century. Clement wrote, “Orpheus pacified wild beasts by the power of his song…Jesus’ new song tames ‘the most intractable of all animals – man.’”
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. 
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.
 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.”
 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/
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.”
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.”
 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,  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.
 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).