A Pilgrim Prayer for Nomads

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

Abraham the nomad for God and His purposes is also Abraham the pilgrim. At one level, Abraham and Sarah’s journey feels random and strange. They leave their homeland and their extended support network. They leave what is known for what is unknown. From the outside, it could seem that they are merely wandering nomads.

But the eyes of faith see something else. Abraham and Sarah hear God and respond. They live each day, aware of God’s guiding hand and watchful for God’s interrupting grace that will point them toward what is next. Abraham and Sarah wait. They step forward and step back They works and rest. They succeed and they fail. They travel and they are still. And all of this happens in relation to the leading of God. This is the blessed way of those, as Psalm 84:5 says, “whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”

Lord, lead me into the pilgrim way of faith seen in Abraham and Sarah. Though my ways sometimes feel more like nomadic wanderings than anything else, help me to discern Your hand in the midst of my day. And so, Lord, give me Your vision and guide me into Your purposes for my life that I every day and hour might draw me closer to You than to anything or anyone else. Open my ears to hear and my eyes to see. Strengthen my mind to understand and my heart to yearn for You. In this earthly way be my eternal home both for now and always.

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdoms of This World

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we continued our series, “The Kingdom of God” by exploring the ways in which our citizenship in the kingdom interfaces with our earthly citizenship. I proposed that we need to live by the power of the Holy Spirit as exiles in and for the world, concluding with five practices that may help us live this out.

You can view the message video and outline for the message is below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

“Jesus is Lord!”

  • The closeness of the kingdom and responding to Jesus (Mark 1:15)
  • The fundamental declaration of faith (Romans 10:9)
  • Everything is subject to Christ and God’s kingdom (Philippians 2:10-11)

Kingdom Citizens: Recognizing our Dual Citizenship

  • We are citizens of God’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20)
  • We are citizens of earthly kingdoms

Living by the Spirit as Exiles in the World

  • Remember God’s kingdom is a different sort of kingdom (John 18:33-36)
  • Remember we are a holy nation established by God in Christ (1 Peter 2:9-10)
  • Remembering we are exiles scattered in the world (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:11-12)
  • Remember God has delegated authority to earthly rulers and kingdoms (John 19:10-11; Romans 13:1-2)

Living by the Spirit as Exiles for the World

  • Living as exiles for the blessing of the places we are scattered by God (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
  • Living as good citizens within the structures as established by God (Romans 13:1-7)
  • Living in Christian service in relation to the needs of the world (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Living prophetically in relation to the powers and authorities (Acts 4:8-20)

Five Practices of Kingdom Citizens amidst Earthly Kingdoms

  • Hold to our primary citizenship
  • Discern the times and agendas
  • Walk by the Spirit
  • Maintain perspective
  • Live in the tension of hope

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the theme of the kingdom of God in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Romans 10:9 or Philippians 3:20.
  • Take time to meditate on Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate in John 18:33-36; 19:10-11. Respond to the passage by drawing, painting, journaling, or going for a walk to pray.
  • Based on this message and study guide, talk with a friend or journal on your own about what it means to live in the tension of hope as a citizen of the kingdom of God and a citizen of an earthly kingdom.
  • Join us for the Leadership Community with Dr. Vince Bacote on Monday, September 28, at 7 PM, as he speaks on “The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life.”

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)

July 4th: 4 Considerations for the Church

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, here are four thoughts that we would do well to consider as believers in the United States.

  1. Remember: When we come to July 4th, we remember. We remember our history as a nation; we remember sacrifices given over time; we remember who we are as Americans. The concept of remembering is important. It is important to remember good things, so that we might not take them for granted. It is also important to remember things that are not good, that we might work toward change on them. As an increasingly rootless society with little to no sense of our past, we need to move into the future and face the present in light of our past. Memory is important for us as people. July 4th gives us a time to stand in the living memory of our nation. It is a practice that should be normal for those of us who consider ourselves Christians. As Christians we are called to run the race of life within that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the saints past, present, and future who have gone before us. We need to remember who we are.
  2. We Are Citizen Exiles: As we live on earth, we are legally citizens of specific nations and states. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the many benefits I enjoy as a citizen of this country, while also recognizing the shortcomings of our country. I work for change where it is needed, and I also savor what is good. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Even though we are legally citizens of certain countries on earth, we will never truly belong here. Because the great confession of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), we also remember, as Paul writes elsewhere, that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  So, as we mark this holiday with fellow citizens of the United States, we do well to also remember to live in the tension as citizens of heaven whose primary allegiance is to King Jesus and ultimate home is in the presence of God.
  3. Seek the Common Good: When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites in Babylon, he gave these instructions: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Although we are citizen-exiles, we exist here for God’s glory by seeking the common good of the city and nation in which we live. We do not belong here, but we must steward our lives here to the glory of God and the benefit of those around us. Our nation, the United States of America, is the place where God has ‘exiled’ those of us who are citizens of it. We honor God when we seek the common good of this place. The common good is developed by recognizing the benefits and shortcomings of this nation, and seeking to bring them to all equitably. We fail to honor God when we seek only our own benefit and not the benefit of releasing the resources God has given us into the community around us.
  4. Celebrate True Freedom: As we mark the freedom we enjoy as a self-governing democracy in this nation, we must simultaneously not lose sight of the fact that political freedoms—even freedom of religion—cannot compare to the true freedom that we experience as followers of Christ. Paul writes to the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul is speaking to that early gathering of believers about the essential spiritual freedom we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many of the early disciples and contemporaries of Jesus expected Him to institute a new earthly kingdom, He instead started a revolutionary movement of living free with God in the fully available Kingdom of God. Any celebration of freedom within our nation is small compared to the boisterous celebration of freedom available in Jesus Christ for now and unto eternity.

Jesus the New Israel

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum

As part of my message this past weekend on Daniel 12, “Faith at the End of All Things,” I shared a list of parallels about how Jesus is not only Savior and Forgiver, but also takes all the history of Israel into Himself and becomes the new Israel as the Messiah. A number of people asked if I would share that list, and so I’m doing that here.

A Messiah will come and bring hope and life for humanity. He will be like the Son of Man figure in Daniel 7, worthy of worship and like God. But he will also take all the history of Israel into himself and bring its fulfillment through His life death and resurrection. And so:

  • Jesus’ humble birth at the edges of civilization parallels Israel’s humble beginnings as a nomadic tribe of Abraham.
  • Jesus’ baptism parallels Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea after the Exodus
  • Jesus’ testing in the desert for 40 days parallels Israel’s wandering in the wilderness for 40 years
  • Jesus’ teaching and miracles as God’s tabernacle in flesh parallels the building of the tabernacle and temple where heaven touched earth in God’s presence
  • Jesus’ death on the Cross parallels the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the overrunning of God’s people
  • Jesus’ burial in the tomb parallels the exile of God’s people from the Promised Land
  • Jesus’ resurrection in the tomb parallels the double exodus of liberation from slavery in Egypt and liberation from exile in Babylon
  • And Jesus ascension to the Father’s right hand parallels the future resurrection that awaits humanity at the end of our lives and the cataclysmic end of human history at Christ’s return

This is why, with Peter, we can celebrate Jesus as not only our Forgiver and Savior, but the resurrected bringer of hope with God for humanity.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).