There is much gnashing of teeth in the land these days, over our likely choices, or lack thereof, in the upcoming presidential elections. I certainly understand the consternation, and feel my share of frustration and bewilderment at the state of affairs in America today, but I’m not sure my complaining about it will do any good.
There was a day when we could be unhappy about such things, but our opinions were usually heard only by the fellows down at the barber shop or the ladies at the beauty shop. These days, with social media, all the world gets to hear our complaints. If you will allow, let me speak to that sense of despair and discouragement that I am hearing on so many sides.
First, as a way of reminder, we began the year 2016 at Shelby Crossings with a focus in our Sunday messages on living “in the world, but not of it.” That theme is something the Lord continues to remind me about daily, as we as a church face the challenge of living for Christ in our increasingly secular world. Aside from just political preferences, it is becoming apparent that to follow Jesus in the 21st century demands that we regularly choose to go against the flow of the culture we live in.
But then again, for Christians around world in the last twenty centuries, that has usually been the case. I am reminded of an ancient letter, dating back to the second century A.D., that describes life in the early church for believers who lived in a decidedly secular world. They didn’t even have the opportunity of political elections, and sure didn’t have high hopes for the character or godly wisdom of the emperors who ruled over them.
The letter was written by an anonymous author to a man named Diognetus, and has been preserved for nearly 1,900 years. I had to read it as part of a church history class in seminary, and have never forgotten its description of believers who lived as foreigners in their homeland. The letter is of keen interest to Christian historians, especially in regard to its descirption of how believers lived “in the world,” balancing their dual citizenship in a pagan world and in God’s kingdom. It provides a good picture of how we might also live in our current world, no matter the political environment. Here’s an excerpt:
Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity…Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They share a common table, but not a common bed.They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.
Once again, like our brothers in the second century, we must be “in the world” but not be “of it.” We must be salt and light in our culture, difference-makers as Jesus called us to be. And we must not stop praying for our leaders–whether we vote for them or not–just as Scripture reminds us again and again. However, even as patriotic Americans, we must also understand that we are living in foreign territory. This world is not our home, and we shouldn’t be surprised when it acts accordingly. We are, as the letter to Digonetus described those early Christians, “just passing through.”
Be encouraged, church. We’re not the first to tread this path. Be diligent and be faithful, and walk in the grace of our Lord Jesus each day. That’s what this world needs from us the most. I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.