Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Today I am packing for the first of two international trips in March. This is the smaller one, the one to Canada, the one that has largely been overshadowed by our team Philippines trip. But packing always puts me in a reflective mood, which I like a lot better than the way it affects some other people I know who get totally stressed out and task-oriented when they pack.

I get reflective. I think partly (here comes the psychoanalysis) because my childhood was so deeply rooted, growing up on a farm in northwestern Minnesota and rarely, rarely leaving to go anywhere. I didn't grow up with international experience and very rarely went out of state. But I developed deep roots. I remember going home after my first year at college and, just to see if I could, one moonless night I walked without a flashlight up into the north pasture woods. This little patch of poplar and oak trees is only about ten or fifteen acres crisscrossed with cattle trails. It was my playground throughout my childhood. That night for hours I wandered back and forth through the darkness, navigating totally by feel, just to see if I remembered my way. I did.

Had a great conversation the other day with my good friend and partner in heresy, Curt. We hadn't talked in a while so it took us a couple hours to scratch the surface of what each of us has been thinking about lately. Oh, that was refreshing!

One theme that he brought up that has also been on my mind has to do with the nature of following Jesus. Curt made reference to the word "walk" as an important way to understand what we do spiritually. This is a fairly common term -- we talk about our "faith walk" or "walking the talk". We get this.

Something clicked in my brain and I thought of a Greek word that has fascinated me since I first ran across it in high school. The word in Greek is "parepidemos". The plural form of this word is used among other places in 1 Peter 1:1, where it is usually translated "exiles".

One Greek lexicon defines this word as:


one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives a stranger sojourning in a strange place, a foreigner in the NT metaph. in reference to heaven as the native country, one who sojourns on earth.

The Bible is full of this idea. God's people are "strangers sojourning in a strange place." We are foreigners. We are citizens of someplace else. This does not mean, however, that the old hymn has it right, that "this world is not my home, I'm just a-passin' through". No, that's not biblical.

In Philippians, Paul writes that "our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). The Philippians were quite familiar with this idea of citizenship. In fact, Philippi was founded as a Roman colony, founded by a bunch of Roman soldiers who were granted citizenship because they were willing to live apart from Rome and found this Roman colony on the eastern shores of Greece, far away from home.

The picture Paul uses in this text is not that the citizens will someday abandon Philippi and go back to Rome. (Part of the reason Rome encouraged these soldiers to found the city of Philippi was to keep the threat of a bunch of retired military men far from Rome!) Rather, the citizens waited eagerly for Caesar to come to them, to honor them with his presence. They built, nurtured, and developed the city to prepare it for Caesar's eventual visit. Philippi was to be transformed by the coming of Caesar; its citizens were not to abandon the city.

In the same way, Christians are not called to live here in anticipation of someday being taken from this world to an other-worldly heaven. Instead, we live here as citizens of heaven, preparing for the visit of our Lord, who will come in glory to transform us -- and this world -- into a brand new creation. Peter writes about the same thing in 2 Peter 3, where he writes:

"Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3: 11-13). Peter and Paul and the rest of the New Testament agree that we do not go away from here to some other place -- except perhaps temporarily after death while we wait for the final resurrection -- but rather that our time on earth is an opportunity for us to prepare the way for Jesus' eventual coming as Lord, as the one who will make all things new. If you want to read about this in detail, probably the best biblical text is 1 Corinthians 15, which after a long discussion of the resurrection, ends with the following rather surprising verse: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

In other words, we have work to do. This is where our wandering comes in. We do not live according to the world's limits. We do not accept that what is impossible in the world is impossible for us. We can do all things through Christ who gives us his strength. So though our task -- making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28) and foreshadowing the eventual redemption of all creation (Romans 8) -- is far beyond us, we wander this earth as pilgrims, as foreigners, as sojourners, doing the work that God calls us to do, the work that Jesus started in his resurrection, doing this work by the power of the Spirit he has poured out on us.

So I am packing a bag, boarding a plane, flying to a tiny school in Camrose, Alberta (the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute) to spend a little time with students there who are in the early stages of following Jesus. This will be the third year I'm teaching at CLBI. I love doing this, as it feels very much like something I'm created to do. A couple weeks ago on this blog I wrote about my "major role statement," and I've been continuing to revise that statement. It's supposed to be a summary of exactly what God has created me to do. The benefit of having such a statement is that it helps me know myself and know God's call to me. That way I have a clearer idea what opportunities I should accept and which ones I should reject. Here's my statement in its latest revision:

I listen for and discern kingdom possibilities, teach biblical truth, and lead relationally in order to equip spiritually hungry people to go beyond their boundaries into freedom, ministry, and maturity in Jesus Christ.”

This trip to Canada, and our fast-approaching trip to the Philippines, seem like good fits as I reread this statement. This is what I do as I wander. It's how I spend my exile. It is the task of my pilgrimage. It's the role Jesus has given me in his kingdom.

I had to chuckle yesterday -- I'm teaching a high school class on World Religions for the local Christian homeschool co-op. Yesterday we were discussing Islam, and in the middle of teaching the Five Pillars of Islam, a spiritually hungry student asked a question and I was off and running, talking about what it really means when the New Testament says that we are "saved." It doesn't take much for me to start trying to take such people beyond their boundaries and toward maturity in Jesus Christ. It's just what I do. Left to my own inclinations, it's how I spend my time and energy. It takes tremendous focus for me to do something that does not fit into that statement.

So what do you do as you wander? We are parepidemois, we who live as citizens of heaven, wanderers and sojourners, foreigners in this world. What is your job here? How has God wired you? What is Jesus' call on your life? What specific tasks has he wired into you that bring you to life, that bring his kingdom to reality both in you and around you?

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