It’s Hard To Live In Exile And Harder To Do What God Says About Your Place Of Exile

God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God.

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Do your circumstances feel like you are living in exile? You work at a job that under-appreciates your work, and under-pays you for overworking you. You have been terminated from work and the pile of bills is now a mountain of bills. Your spouse has left you for more excitement that you were able to provide. You wish your spouse WOULD leave because all they do is belittle you and tell you all that you do wrong. You look in the mirror with great disgust at the person looking back at you because you hate what you see. The doctor prescribes a series of chemo and radiation treatments because of your cancer. The church you attend is embroiled in political and in-house bickering and fighting. Your parents lament on a daily basis on how you could have done better. The air conditioner, refrigerator, and hot water heater all died the same day. The Sheriff’s Department just posted an eviction notice on your door.

Now, add to all of that the cultural and political wars going on in the good old U.S. of A. The news channels blaring away at all the upheaval, and the violence that is happening every day, all day long. I don’t know about you, but there have been many moments where I felt like I was in exile.

Feelings of exile have a long history. In many cases, it was more than a feeling, it was a national reality. Jeremiah lived in such a time–a literal time of exile. And Jeremiah has something to tell them–something God wanted them to know.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:2-7 (NLT)

They are living in a foreign land, under foreign rule, with foreign customs and a pagan culture. Pagan Culture–does that resonant with you? It resonates with me as a Kingdom Citizen. And I hear a lot of voices that seem to echo the same sentiments. Face it, as Followers of Jesus our culture neither likes nor embraces Kingdom Truth. This time has been appropriately called “The Post Christian Era”. Values of the Kingdom of God are considered outdated. And add to this, that many who professed to be Followers of Jesus looked nothing at all like Jesus. In fighting and self righteousness turned many away from becoming Followers of Jesus.

So, how do we live in a time and place that feels like exile? It seems to me, that the words of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies spoken to Jeremiah still apply today. Look carefully again at what God instructs those exiles to do:

Build homes, and plan to stay

Establish your allegiance and loyalty to Jesus and God’s Kingdom. Be that city on a hill, that candle on the candlestand.

Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 

Be a producer of the positive wherever you are. Do not lower yourself to engage in the bitter fighting that is so entrenched in this culture. Bring good things into your part of this dysfunctional culture.

Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

Reproduce Kingdom Values within your family, your circle of close friends, at work–wherever you happen to be. Be the example and encourage others to be that example. You reproduce those Kingdom Values as you teach others–and they see them verified in your daily life.

So far so good, right? Challenging, yes–but doable. But there’s more–and it’s going to be a lot more difficult.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.

Did you just see that? Work for the peace and prosperity of those people who make us feel like we are in exile. It’s simple, really simple. If you are on the left–help and pray that the right would be at peace and experience prosperity. For you on the right–help and pray that the left would be at peace and experience peace. If you are a centrist, then do the same for both the left and the right.

It doesn’t seem fair or just that God would tell us to do that. But…don’t miss that next line from the passage: “the city where I sent you into exile.” God sent Judah into exile because of their disobedience. And for us today? God sends us into the places of exile because they need to be reclaimed and restored to the Kingdom of God. Their reason for exile was disobedience–and our reason is Obedience–obedience to God’s call to wage spiritual warfare against Satan.

Oh, and that last line: “Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” OK, do you want to see our culture transformed? The pray for their Shalom. That is the Hebrew word used. It means, among many things, peace. Pray for the opposite side from you to do well, be strong and have inner peace. If you don’t, well, God said what the outcome will be: You will NOT be strong or be well or have peace.

Your welfare rests upon what you want for others, even those on the opposite side. Followers of Jesus, we are in exile–but we are in exile for a purpose and a reason–to bring The Kingdom Of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” If you want some practical advice on how to accomplish this, well…listen to Paul in Romans 12:21

As long as you are agitated and mad at your culture, nothing will change and you will be miserable. It’s not easy to do–it’s not meant to be easy. It’s meant to cause you to turn to God, seek His Holy Spirit and rely on The Spirit. It doesn’t make sense to do it this way. But…it does work!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him…and it does when you pray for the peace of your enemies.

Why, Oh Lord, Why?

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Once again our nation is reeling from yet another act of senseless violence, though it made perfect sense to Nikolas Cruz.  And thus my question this morning:

Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?

There are those who will answer my question, but with the wrong answer.  “It’s the gun laws, rather, the lack of gun laws.  If we just ban those nasty guns, this would not ever happen again.”  I just don’t think this is the answer.  Chicago has the strictest gun laws and the senseless human violence continues every day.

“It’s that he wasn’t treated fairly.  He did not have the same opportunities as others.  If he had just received what he was entitled to, this would not have happened.”  Well, he may not have been treated fairly, but many others haven’t been treated fairly but they did not go out and kill innocent people.  So, how is this the answer?

“Well, they took prayer and the Bible out of the schools and this is the result!”  Do you really think that there is a “Prayer Void” or “Bible Void”, like a black hole, that exists in public schools?  I know countless students, teachers, support staff and administrators that cover their schools in prayer every day, and though they do not “read the Bible” in class, these Disciples of Jesus live out those words every day.  So, I don’t think that is the reason nor the answer to my question.  Besides, like the saying goes, “As long as there are tests, students will pray.”

“Video games and TV violence is the reason!  If Silicon Valley and Hollywood did not glorify violence, this would not have happened.”  If so, why isn’t everyone who plays video games and watches violent TV out there killing the innocents?  Mind you, I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t desensitize people’s conscience.  But eliminating violent games and TV will not eliminate this threat.

They are coming out of the woodwork, from under rocks, all espousing reasons for this horrible act of human violence.  Their reasons will go on ad nauseam and yet, there will be another shooting at a church, school, community center–anywhere people gather.  So what is the answer to this burning question that oozes out of both my faith and my heart?

To be quite honest, I cannot accept the “pat” answers, but I admit that I do not have the answer.  Honestly, I do not know that there is an “answer”.  Perhaps I, along with many others should ask a different question other than the “why” question.  I’m simply thinking out loud right now because of this ooze of “why”.  Maybe the question that everyone who professes to be “Christian” (perhaps I should say ‘allegedly’ Christian) should be asking is: “What now?  What should we do now?”  This is a question for which I do have an answer.  And here is my answer to “that” question.

You need to stop be consumers of the services of the church.  Sorry, Jack, your local church does NOT exist for you.  You need to become the producers of what the church is really about; and that’s the Kingdom of God.  Quit living out a small story and step into the story of the Kingdom where God is in the business of redeeming and restoring human lives.  Stop spending so much of your budget on what happens at a 911 address (that means building/campus).

Quit pointing out where everyone else is wrong and admit that somewhere you are broken, too.  Get to know the people around you, without offering judgment against them.  Get out of, way out of your comfort zones.

Jesus wasn’t comfortable in what He did for you on that Cross, so why should you get to be comfortable in what you do for Jesus! 

Quit whining about us needing to become ‘again’ a “Christian nation” and understand that as Disciples of Jesus we are “aliens and foreigners” in this land; God’s true people have always been “foreigners” wherever they lived.  Show me one verse that says God wants to establish a “Christian Nation” and I will show you a hundred verses where Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God!  Let’s start doing something, just one thing at a time, that helps others, including yourself, to be restored to the image of God.  Live out Grace the way Jesus lived out Grace.

I just don’t know the “Why, oh Lord, why did this happen?”  But I am now reminded that even with my doubt and questions, God is still working to establish His Kingdom, that place where His will is “done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And makes sure all the glory goes to Him!

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A New Definition Of Hate

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OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I don’t keep up with all the current events.  The past 7 days, though, I have a good, a very good excuse.  But then, don’t we all?  Well, I feel like mine has some merit.  Last Wednesday I had a heart ablation from which I am recovering very well.  Then there’s this thing called HARVEY.  As our tribe’s (some call them denominations) Disaster Response & Recovery Coordinator there is much work I have to do in this role as a Bond Servant of Jesus.

This morning I checked my Twitter feed and was seeing all this stuff about The Nashville Statement.  It was a diatribe of hate, so I decided to read it for myself rather than read what others said about.  I know, how dumb can I be!  Wanting to read it for myself rather than trust all those progressive voices telling me what it means.  I saw some tweets comparing the writers and signers as supporters of the American Nazi movement.  Well, I read it and was left scratching my head wondering, “Where is the hate?  Did Google lead me to the wrong site?”

So I went back to those Tweets.  Aren’t they always reliable and truthful?  I found this link to an article written by John Pavlovitz titled The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation).  Well I thought, “OK!  I love plain language translations.  Here I can get to the heart of the real NASHVILLE STATEMENT, not the wrong one Google gave me.”  Well, there I go thinking again.  And thus why I am writing this morning.

His alleged “plain language translation” was simply a rehash of all the hate speech I had seen on Twitter.  After careful review and reflection of John’s comments and other similar reviews, I have reached an assessment, call it conclusion, not only about many progressives, but our culture in general.  And here it is:  “If you do not agree with me and my views then you automatically hate me and others like me.”

Really, John, et.al.?  I realize that in the arena of discussion about human sexuality that there is some hate speech going on, especially in the name of the Body of Christ.  And to those who express hate speech and identify yourself as (an alleged) Christian, I say to you, “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU!  REPENT IMMEDIATELY AND TURN TO GOD!”

I realize a lot of morons, excuse me, “well-meaning people” have taken biblical texts out of context to justify their position and made the Bible say things it doesn’t say.  But if one will take the time to see the whole picture of the Bible, there are only 2 stories.  The first story is God’s creation and His Intended Design.  It was perfect in every way.  And in the realm of sexuality it is very clear:  God created them biologically male and female, both equally revealing His image.  And marriage was defined as 1 husband (a man) and 1 wife (a woman).  Together they were to live in perfect relationship with God and together explore God’s creation.  Story #1!

The second story begins with the Fall, which introduces into God’s Creation a totally different purpose.  The rest of the Bible is the story of God attempting to restore fallen humanity back in His Original Intent and Design and away from this “Fallen” purpose.  Now anyone like me, who believes that God is busy setting back right all that we humans have messed up, is simply filled with hate, well John, you are all wrong about that!

Our culture has gone into a moral and spiritual wasteland when anyone with a different view or belief, is labeled HATEFUL!  Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it!  But then I remember those words of Jesus:  (Matthew 5:44 NLT) “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”  I hear a lot of people like John, who label themselves as progressives, pray AGAINST their perceived enemy and all the while calling for love above all.  Is it just me that sees the hypocracy of progressives?  They rant, rail and pray against their “enemy” while insisting that love should rule the day.

Yes, we are called to love but not at the sacrifice of the Truth.  I’ve heard the argument, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  Nothing, so we shouldn’t.”  Well, He didn’t say anything against using meth or cheating on your tax return, or keeping that extra change that the cashier gave you, or a lot of other every day “stuff”.  But Peter made the connection in 1 Peter 1:15-16–“15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  And Holy is to be who and what God designed us to be.  If that is hate, then maybe you need a new definition of hate.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!