What Does it Mean to Belong with God as Exiles on Earth?

Belonging

I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:9-10)

Because we are called and chosen, we can entrust ourselves to God. Because God has named us as His servant, we know that He is our God and we do not need to fear. Our place of belonging is not ultimately in a land or in a place but with our God.

And because our home is with God, then all places become places of home as God is there. We are simultaneously displaced and belonging, refugees on earth and returnees in God. Each place we step is a place of alienation from that place while simultaneously being an experience of homecoming in God.

The difference is not just one of perspective but of reality in God through Christ. We say, “I do not belong here,” in terms of place, while also saying, “I do belong here,” with God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Ironically, we all search for belonging yet often feel we do not belong. We seek belonging in a friend group, a hobby group, a social group, or a religious group, but we still often struggle with a sense of disconnection and alienation. How is it that we can both apparently belong and feel like we do not belong? What is it that is wrong with us that this pervasive sense of alienation occurs?

I’d like to suggest that it is because we need a different sort of belonging. We seek belonging through external connection or place, but it is inner, spiritual belonging that we truly seek and that truly changes us. We were made for God and, as St. Augustine so memorably writes, “our hearts are restless until they rest in You, oh God.” When we come to the place of rest in God through yielding ourselves and our destiny to God, that is the beginning of our journey to belonging.

It is not that place is irrelevant, but that the first place we need to belong is with God. When we let go of our wildly surging press for belonging in this place with this people, then we are open to understand our chosenness in God and our calling from Him. At that transforming encounter with God through Christ occurs, we also find a restful home in God that enables us to rightly engage with the world around us. We live in simultaneous alienation and peace, displacement and contented rest. We do not belong, but we do.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
(Hebrews 11:13)

Hungry to Know

One of my friends in college was always afraid that if she left one of our gatherings something really fun would happen immediately afterwards, leaving her out of the fun. We would joke around with her about it, promising that we wouldn’t do anything really fun until after she left for her apartment. Today, there’s a name for that: “fear of missing out.” The fear of missing out has become seemingly more pervasive since social media enables us to tell everyone everywhere about the amazing food we are eating, the cool people we are spending time with, and the once-in-a-lifetime vacation we are having. Everyone else can peek into it and experience the fear (or reality) of missing out.

In one sense, the fear of missing out reflects the insatiable desire built within humanity to understand what is going on in the world and in our lives. We scramble to be “in the know” or “on the inside track,” and we hate feeling “out of the loop.” In his essay, “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis wrote that this desire: “It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it … Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care.”

This hunger for understanding is built into us by God. We certainly recognize that this hunger to know has led to many important breakthroughs, whether in cancer research, philosophical understanding, or our conception of the physical world. Yet, left to our own devices, this hunger to know often pushes us into a mad scramble to indiscriminately know and be in on everything without stopping to consider what is really worth knowing and why. 

In its best sense, this hunger to know leads us into an encounter with that which is beyond us and, ultimately, God. This week our devotional is built around this theme of the hunger to know. 

Let us begin with some of the greatest prayers on this theme:

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11)

“Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:12)

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off:Choose to fast from information in some way this week: reduce your access to the news; reduce how often you check your email or social media; avoid gossip forums or conversations. Think about why we so often desire to “be in the know” when it comes to other people or events.

Put On: Replace the time you use to gather information with practices that will help you hear from God, such as regular Scripture reading, prayer, or sitting in silence before God. Make a commitment to change your habits regarding to how much time you spend taking in “news” about the temporary world and how you will begin to spend some of that time learning about God’s kingdom.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

Hungry for Love

hungry-for-love-wk-1-01.png

All of us want to experience love. Sometimes this hunger for love looks like a longing for friendship. Sometimes our longing for love surfaces in the desire for intimacy. At other times, this hunger for love is as basic as the desire to belong somewhere with someone. Near the beginning of Genesis, in the account of God’s creation of human beings, we are told that this basic longing for love is seen in the connection between Adam and Eve: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 

Elsewhere in Scripture we see that the hunger for love and connection is directly related to the fact that we have a built-in hunger for God. The Psalmist expresses this longing powerfully: 

“You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

In the New Testament, Paul the Apostle echoes this longing for love in a prayer for early Christians about the significance of God’s love in our lives and growth with Christ. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Our theme for this week is the hunger for love. Throughout this week’s devotional, we will explore how hunger for love relates to human love and divine love. 

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: This week’s practice starts with taking the time to identify some of the false loves in our lives we try to find our self-worth through. You can begin by simply listing the relationships you turn to in order to find love, value, and acceptance in your life. Have any of these become unhealthy in some way? Are any of these causing you to compromise who you are and/or your values in order to be accepted or loved? Are any of these contractual (as long as you do this for me, I’ll love you) or codependent (they are enabling or encouraging poor choices in your life)? Pray for God’s wisdom in how to respond to what you have identified.

Put On: Take a step this week to enter into meaningful Christian community, whether through an existing relationship with a Christian, a small group of some type through church, or some other means. A meaningful Christian community is one where you can know (and are known by) other Christians, where you can pray for and encourage one another and where together you can interact with the Truth of God (through a study, discussion, etc.). If you need ideas for how to find community like this, please contact the Eastbrook Church office. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

You Belong in the Family (discussion questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “You Belong in the Family,” from this weekend at Eastbrook Church.

Discussion Questions:

1. When you hear the word, ‘family’, what do you think of?

2. This week, we are beginning a new series called “Family Portrait.” Whether on your own or with a group, begin your study by asking God to speak to you.

3. We are looking at some broad themes in the Scripture. To do this, we will explore a lot of Scripture. Read the following passages and consider what you think these verses are saying about the concept of ‘family’ and what it means to be a part of a family as Christians:

  • Matthew 12:46-50
  • 1 Corinthians 7:1-16
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-16

4. One of the key concepts in the New Testament related to family is our adoption by God as His children through the work of Jesus Christ. Read and reflect on what each of these Scripture passages says about adoption by God:

Read More »