Living in Exile Today

The church in America today has an opportunity to remember her true identity.  Most church folks aren’t too excited about the current state of affairs, and probably wouldn’t look at it as an opportunity for something good.  The truth is, many church folk are feeling lost.  We look around and things aren’t the same as they used to be, and it scares the daylights out of us.  Typically when people encounter this dynamic, the tendency is to hunker down and long for what was.  We long for the good-ole days.  We stiff-arm anything new that might reek of newness.  We look around and find other people who are searching for their identity in this new, ever-changing landscape.  And we all agree—we don’t like what we see.

God’s people have been in this situation before.  Having been carted off to Babylon, God’s people found themselves in exile.  Our situation isn’t exactly like theirs, as we haven’t been removed from our land and taken to someplace new.  But it feels like we have.  Our situation feels like exile.  The landscape is completely new and ever-changing.  There are different customs, different people, and different gods.  We feel lost, and no one likes feeling lost.  

So what do we do now?  As Charles Colson asked several years ago, how now shall we live?  Here’s where I believe we have a unique opportunity to remember our true identity.  As Christians, we are to be like Christ.  That is our identity, first and foremost.  Everything else comes after that.  No language, flag, country, ethnicity, etc. supersedes our identity as children of God.  God’s people in exile had to remember that.  Away from the safety net of home, they had to remember who they were by doing those things that were in line with the character of God.  They could have grumbled and complained about what was, or they could get busy modeling God’s character in a strange land.  As the character Red says in *Shawshank Redemption*, “You can get busy livin’, or you can get busy dyin’.”  

This may be difficult for some to hear and others might just disagree with me, but I think the church in America has an entitlement problem.  We believe we are entitled to have our way in society.  We believe we’re entitled to have Christian leaders, Christian judges, Christian laws, etc.  And in so doing, we have elevated the Constitution of the United States above the Word, the Living Word—Jesus.  We are more prone to define “freedom” along the lines of the pursuit of wealth, happiness, and personal autonomy, as opposed to Jesus’s call to serve others, love our enemies, and befriend the sinner.  At this point many will remind me of the Christian foundations of this nation, but my reply is that all nations, no matter how they began, are always going to act like nations.  Even the nation of Israel, formed by God’s call, acted time and time again like every other nation, bent on the acquisition of power.  God wanted them to be different, but Israel wanted a king.  Nations will act like nations.  Our culture will act like every other culture.  And why would we expect any differently?  Why would we expect those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them to act in ways congruent with Jesus?  

How now shall we live?  Like Jesus.  Love our Creator, love our neighbor.  Even love our enemy.  I think the church needs to ask forgiveness for the ways we are falling short of that, myself included.  Jesus didn't spend his time blasting the local secular authorities or the Roman governor for their behavior; on the contrary, most of his harsh words were directed toward the religious people (i.e. US!).  It was the religious people who were loading impossible burdens on people without doing anything to help them.  

I think the opposite of entitled living is thankful living.  Rather than acting like we are owed something, it’s time for us to live in a spirit of gratitude.  We ought to live our lives thankful for what Jesus has done for us, in us, through us, and is doing around us.  We ought to be thankful that we have the opportunity to serve others.  We ought to be thankful that through the Spirit of God, we get to proclaim a message of love and hope.  This is a thankfulness based on the story of God, the One who gives us our true identity.  May we live this life with humility and boldness, knowing that the One who gave us new life is about the business of making ALL things new.

-- Pastor Jon Gildner