Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Outcasts in a Foreign Land

Imagine you are visiting a foreign country. You’ve never been to this land before; you don’t know anything about the terrain or the people or their culture except for one thing. You know that it’s the opposite of your homeland.

Everywhere you go you feel dozens of eyes following your every move. They know with one glance that you are a foreigner. It’s obvious in the way you dress, the way you talk, even the way you eat your lunch. (Um, what are all these extra spoons for anyway?) The people know it, you know it – you are not one of them.

Question: How far would you go to blend in?

Let’s say that many of the natives are passionately prejudiced against your country. Their everyday conversation and jokes are filled with obscene insults about your government and your way of life. You have a problem. You love your country and you know that these people are simply misinformed about the place that you come from.

So you have two options. You can either:

Do your best to talk, dress, and act like the natives of the country you are visiting. This includes denying where you are from and joining in their pronounced hatred for your own country. You also hide or burn everything patriotic that you own. (How embarrassing if the natives caught you with that?)


You display pride in your country despite the consequences. You don’t try to change who you are, and you are not ashamed. Sure you endure mockery and are the brunt of many a derisive sneer and mean-spirited scoff. But it doesn’t matter because this place is not your home. You come from a better land, a higher land, and you are loyal to that land. And of all those who misunderstand, to any who will listen, you are determined to gently break down their prejudice and tell them what your country is really like.

My Christian friends, how far do you go to blend in to a culture that is not yours? You’ve heard it before ... “you are not of this world.” You are merely visiting. Foreigners in a foreign land. Does the world notice that you are different? It should.

Do you dress differently? “I want women to show their beauty by dressing in appropriate clothes that are modest and respectable…” (1 Timothy 2:9, GW) And appropriate clothing applies to guys too ...

Do you speak differently? “Let no filthy talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up as the need may be. This way you will give grace to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29, ISV)

Do you act differently? “If you belonged to the world, its people would love you. But you don't belong to the world. I have chosen you to leave the world behind, and that is why its people hate you.” (John 15:19, CEV)

All too often we allow the surrounding culture to intimidate us. We squirm under their disapproving glances. They think we’re weird, you can see it in their eyes. They make jokes about us and the things that we believe. Or better phrased, the things they think we believe. They make “being good” sound like a bad thing. They call us freaks and fanatics. (So what? I take it as a compliment. In the words of a popular DC Talk song, “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak; there ain’t no disguising the truth.”)

The truth is, people, we are citizens of Heaven, and we have absolutely no reason to be ashamed of that. Why deny your homeland for a country that is not your own?

Romans 12:2 says this: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)

What is God’s will? God’s will is for us to live above the world. Not to stoop to the grime and muck of their way of doing things, not to conform to their customs and standards (or lack thereof), but to think the way He thinks. His opinion is the only one that matters. He is the One who deserves our loyalty.

But loyalty often demands sacrifice by its very practice. Which is exactly what the previous verse in Romans 12 informs us. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” (Romans 12:1, NLT)

Sacrifice. It’s a strong word – a serious word. It bids us to lay on an altar all the things that the citizens of this world cling to and fight for. But really it’s like burning a worthless currency, one that holds no real value but the citizens still insist upon using it.

What is this worthless currency we are called to sacrifice? We sacrifice worldly popularity, our pride, our selfishness, and our fleshly desires. We worship God, not by singing a seven-eleven praise chorus, but by the way we live. The movies we watch, the music we listen to, the way we treat people – all this demonstrates how we truly feel about God and His Word.

You’d think that it would be easy ... sacrificing the need for acceptance. After all, who needs the approval of men when God is on our side? And yet there is that part of us that longs to belong, a nagging yearning that tauntingly whispers, “The people are staring. You should try to be more like them.”

No! Don’t believe it. Don’t blend in. Even if a million eyes are watching you and a million voices are jabbing insults, don’t betray your Heavenly Country. Don’t deny your King. Remember that He endured taunting and staring and insults for your sake.

That’s right, Jesus didn’t back down from the crowd. His final resistance was by far the hardest thing He had ever done, but He refused to conform for one reason: He had an eternal purpose in mind. His reason was you – your redemption. Now your reason is Him – His glorification.

Brothers and sisters, when we feel the perplexed glances and the disapproving sneers and the pressure to be molded into something we’re not meant to be, we must remember that we have an eternal purpose. By living for Christ, we are storing up a currency of real value. Living by the “gold standard” if you will. The people of this realm may not acknowledge our wealth, but one day we’ll find ourselves in our homeland. And when we arrive there, our King’s question will not be, “How well did you adapt?” But more likely, “How closely did you stand by My standards?”

No matter what country we roam in at present, the answer to that question is one we’ll live with for eternity.

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)

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