Wednesday, April 13, 2005

You're not from around here

I sometimes hear that said to me. You might say I’m “traveled” in my life. A kid born in Indiana, grew up in South Florida which I watched become “Little New York”, 13 years in Texas, and now in Alabama. It doesn’t take much talking from me to know I’m not from around here because I have an accent from everywhere but yet nowhere.

Words carry great meaning and especially so of the words God uses to express Himself in scripture. Peter uses two small words in his first epistle found in 1 Peter 2:11:

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lust, which war against the soul;

He addresses them as “sojourners and pilgrims”. Two small words that contain a deep and profound meaning for Christians because ultimately they tell us who we are, how we should act, our view of life, and where we are going.

Literally, the definition of sojourner is a non-resident alien, a stranger, a foreigner, someone passing through on a journey. The definition of a pilgrim is a resident alien, someone who comes from a foreign country to reside by the side of the natives. These two words provide us two perspectives on the Christian life but each has in common one thing: Christians are aliens in a foreign country. Which leaves us asking, if a Christian is a foreigner in this life then where is home? What “country” am I a citizen of? What am I doing in this foreign land?

We have in American history the story of the Pilgrims from England that came to the “New World” in 1620. Their purpose was to escape from the religious persecution that they endured and find a new home. They called themselves Pilgrims because of the journey they made and the decision to reside in a new land with the natives. But, to them, they left behind the life in England with no intention to ever return. In Heb. 11:13, a context sometimes referred to as the Hall of Faith, we are told of spiritual pilgrims:

Heb 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

God has always called His people to remember where their true citizenship is. The Israelites were given a special feast that they were to keep to remind them of their deliverance out of Egypt, the Feast of Tabernacles found in Lev. 23:42-43. God tells them the reason they were to keep the feast as a reminder that God made them dwell in tabernacles in bringing them out of Egypt, and that “I am Jehovah your God.” As Christians, we are citizens of a Heavenly country, one that we cannot see with our eyes, but one seen from afar at the end of our journey.

As our King, God expects us to work and behave in a way keeping with our citizenship. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes tells us in Eccl 3:9-12 the broad meaning of a purposed life for God. The tasks and responsibilities we are to be busy doing are rejoicing in doing good in this life. This is all framed in the perspective that God has set eternity into the heart of man. What is this good? Jesus responded when questioned about the greatest commandment in Matt 22:37-40, that the first is to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. As Christians we are concerned with reaching our goal of Heaven and the good we should be trying to do is to take as many with us as we can.

However, it’s so easy to become content with this life and just “settle down”. We become busy with the work of this life forgetting about the good we are to be doing and effectively renouncing our Heavenly citizenship. People begin thinking you “look like just one of us.” We must be diligent to maintain the “eternal perspective” that this life is a journey, not a destination. We may have an address, telephone number, and email, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s who you are. Look beyond these things and act in a way that people ask you, “You’re not from around here, are you?” And then explain where you’re going and why.