You can sure tell that the pandemic is winding down just by trying to commute on I-65 or Highway 31 on weekends. The beach-bound crowds are back, crowding us out of our own roads every Friday and Saturday–and filling up restaurants and gas stations. It’s usually pretty obvious whether they are coming or going, depending on the shade of pink their skin is, and whether the look on their faces is one of anticipation and excitement, or dread because they are heading home to go back to work.
One thing is for certain, they definitely “aren’t from around here.” When they come through Shelby County, they are somewhere between home and their final destination at the beach, or vice-versa. Either way, their interest in our area is minimal. They are only passing through.
Actually, that whole scenario provides a pretty good picture of our lives as believers. The Bible reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, that we are aliens and strangers, just passing through. And so we should be living with great anticipation for our final destination, even if that means we have to put up with some things in our journey on the way.
And no doubt, there are many things in this crazy world we live in that remind us daily that we are not at home. As we have discussed quite a bit in our current sermon series on the family, it is becoming more and more 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. 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 description 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. 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.”
I would encourage you, while we are here, to “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15). The Lord has us here for a reason; let’s be sure to impact our world for His gospel.
I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.