Church of the Living God

Aliens in Exile (Part 1)

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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.

 

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.

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!

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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.”

 

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