On Living as Exiles

Sunday, I was privileged to preach at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. I used the time to talk about what it looks like for Christians to live as cultural exiles in the midst of a time of tremendous change.

As we’ve seen since the beginning of summer, there have a been a sweeping series of changes that are continuing to push Christianity to the edges of society…if not to cultural exile where our voices are not part of the larger conversation.

You can view the sermon right here: On Living as Exiles

My primary text for the day was Jeremiah 29:4-14. Here we find the remnant of the Israelites who have been taken into captivity through the Babylonian exile. They are given a prophetic letter from Jeremiah that stands as a set of guidelines on how to live in this exile. Having been taken out of their native, and ancestral, land to a foreign place is certainly more extreme than a social, or cultural marginalization which Christians are continuing to experience. That said, I do think there are some correlations.

At the heart of the conversation are three sections of the text:

In considering the plight of the remnant of Israel while in their initial stages of exile in Babylon, which is modern day Bagdad, my point was essentially this:

Being faithful amid cultural exile means we become ambassadors of peace who await God’s restoration.

One of the key words in the entire passage is found in verses 4 and 11. It is the Hebrew word shalom. As it is used in this context we see that the exiles are commanded to pray for the welfare, the health, and the benefit of the society in which they live. This is a deeply counter-cultural act for what group of captives actively prays for the blessing of the people who have taken them captive, or pushed them to exile? Yet that is the command for believers of that day and our current place.

The second reference to shalom in 4:11 points out that as we pray for this shalom we shall also receive it from God. As we are peacemakers we receive peace. It is easy for us to criticize and wage rhetorical war against our culture, yet in doing so we find ourselves increasingly uneasy in Babylon (so to speak.) Yet as we work to bring the Gospel and the true peace of Jesus to our society we receive an unsurpassing peace ourselves.

Ultimately, the passage leaves us with a hope. A hope of the coming restoration. Perhaps for us it isn’t a cultural one where Christianity regains the dominant cultural position. In fact, I believe the better position of Christianity is to be marginalized in a culture because that is where we can more authentically live out our calling as ambassadors of salt and light.

As Walter Brueggeman has stated in his commentary on Jeremiah: exile is God’s most devastating judgment, but restoration is His greatest gift. May we seek the final restoration of Jesus who will return to redeem and restore all which is lost for His glory and Kingdom.

Jul 2013



Objecting to the Obvious Reality

As I was taking a momentary break from another late, late night studying theological French for my competency exam, I hoped on Twitter. While scrolling through my timeline I saw a tweet from the venerable Michael Frost that quoted the title of a recent Fast Company piece: “In 20 Years, We’re All Going to Realize This Apple Ad is Nuts” written by Mark Wilson.

Wilson’s article is pointing out a recent commercial from the techno-cultural guru’s in Cupertino, California. Here it is:

The ad is startling and should provoke a broader conversation. However, the ad is also honest in capturing the encounter and experience so many of us are having with our mobile and computing devices. (As a disclaimer: I use the full array of Apple products for my work from iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air…I like them.)

The opening lines, as Wilson points out in his piece, are compelling: “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product.”

The images in the ad, shown during Apple’s WWDC a couple of weeks ago, then show people, students, children, and adults engaging with their devices while disengaging from those around them. The experience of the device is the ultimate engagement for them.

Now, there are certainly people that will speak more profoundly about the socio-cultural implications of the ad. My point here is this: Apple is, in an almost mind-numbing display of honesty, stating the growing reality. We are moving from engaging with each other to engaging with devices.

More and more people are preferring electronic community over physical community. They are enjoying their shows or programs digitally and neglecting the communal aspect. How easy is it to load in a movie as you hope on your next plane ride and disappear from reality for the next two hours. As we grow more technologically rich we are becoming increasingly marginalized.

This trend has been growing for some time and it is most evident in tools like Facebook, Twitter, and other “social” media services. Individuals seem more open to discuss and engage in a virtual medium rather than in person.

For our churches the growth of mediums of marginalization, be they ecampuses or even certain forms of multi-sites, where a pastor is unknown to the people he ministers the Gospel to should give us pause. While internet campuses might provide an effective platform to keep families and individuals away for a week connected, we should be challenging those who rely on them week in and week out that there is no replacement for authentic community and Christian hospitality. Both of which are marks of New Testament ministry.

It is ecclesiologically challenging to think that electronic mediums could replace physical proximity.

Yet the challenge of encouraging and embracing physical community continues to grow. Groups numbers are dwindling across the board as is the frequency of attendance from week to week. No longer is a “connected” family or person seen as one who shows up nearly 4 times a month. Yet our call to make disciples still persists.

If we consider the cost of making true disciples the necessity of physical proximity becomes the primary focus initially. When one was following a rabbi at the turn of the first century, they were expected to be in the immediate presence of that leader. Though our technological advantages allow for continued disciple-making across large geographical differences, there is still the need of being personally and physically present with the one who is doing the disciple-making.

Ultimately, we must consider this: Apple’s ad is simply stating the obvious reality…growing personal disconnect. As followers of Christ, who hope to grow true disciples, perhaps our first, and most, counter-cultural step is to call believers into physical, personal, regular community sans electronic devices.