Sunday, December 27, 2020

A 2020 Review: We Are Foreigners

Dan was honored to be asked to preach a sermon for today, Dec. 27th 2020 which was reflective in nature, especially concerning this past year. If you would like, you can read it here:

2020 is FINALLY coming to an end. There are really no words to describe how this year has been, and yet as we draw near the finish line, that’s what many of us are compelled to do. A friend of mine asked their social media friends this past week, “what word best describes 2020 for you.” There were many answers. People said things like, “unexpected”, “challenging”, “exhausting”, “devastating”, “depressing” – although some of the words were what one might consider neutral – unexpected, challenging – there wasn’t a single adjective used that was definitively positive. In fact, the majority of them were quite negative. I believe that it is safe to say that this year has held a lot of disappointment and sorrow for everyone, and has left no one untouched.

 As I was thinking about what word best represents how this year felt for me, I realized more and more, that the word that kept popping up in my mind was “foreign”.


It felt foreign to see everyone wearing masks. It felt foreign to not be able to go to church. It felt foreign to not be able to visit family. It felt foreign to not be able to send our children to school. It felt foreign to not be able to shop for all the things that we needed. It felt foreign to not be able to leave our city.


While thinking on these things, I realized – yes, this year has felt MORE foreign than other years, however as Christians, the Bible actually calls us foreigners. The Bible tells us many times that this world is not our home, that we are called to a higher purpose. This year has simply magnified this truth.


So today, as an “expert and fulltime-foreigner”, I would like to take a little time to look at what it means to be a Christ-follower in a fallen world.


1.   Being a foreigner is hard


My family and I are quite familiar with the “foreigner” experience. We love living in your country! However, many things are harder for us, as people who are not Slovene. Every couple years we have to renew our residency permits. This entails a lot of paperwork. It has to be sent from America. Then it has to be translated into Slovene, and submitted to the local upravna enota. Sometimes they write, and say we need another piece of paper. Or that the paper we gave is too old now, and we need a newer one. Or one with a “more” official stamp. That’s just to live here legally. Then there are things like doctors’ visits and getting our children into school. All of those things are harder, more complicated for us, because we are foreigners. 


God likens our experience as Christians in a fallen world to this. 



In 1 Chron. 29:15 it says

We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.


Wow. “Without hope.” That sounds very bleak, and very unlike the things we are used to hearing about our lives. But it’s important to note, that the writer is saying that our days HERE are without hope, meaning that if we put our faith in things of the world instead of God, THEN we are without hope. Because God is our hope.


It is hard to live as Christians in a world that isn’t meant to be our home. There are things around us every day that we have to navigate – things we can see on television, things we can read, relationships we can get involved in, injustices we can ignore. It is hard to say “no” to a job that seems great, but where you’ll be expected to look the other way sometimes. It is hard to say “no” to a relationship that you want, but know will not bring you closer to God. It is hard to say “no” to watching a popular movie or TV show that everyone else is talking about, because you know the message is problematic. Every day, we as Christians make hard decisions.


1 Peter 2:9 encourages us in this way:

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.


We live differently, because God has set us apart for His purpose. Yet, it can be hard, but we know that our relationship with God is the most precious thing in our lives, and so we live in His wonderful light.


2.   Other people don’t always understand us


I am sure that most, if not all of you have traveled outside of Slovenia at one point or another, to a place where they did not speak your language. Can you think of a moment when you were trying to make yourself understood, and yet none of your pantomiming, waving or gestures helped? Living here in Slovenia, this happens to us quite frequently, but one of our favorite is a story I would love to share with you today.


The day that we first moved into our apartment in Ljubljana, we spent the day unpacking boxes, and were too tired to cook. There was a little restaurant around the corner from us, and we decided to check it out. On the menu I saw in big letters, in English STEAK. Now, to understand this story, I have to tell you that in America, the word “steak” is a certain cut of beef. It can be thick or thin, cooked a couple ways – but it is ALWAYS beef. Now, I also have to tell you that steak is one of my favorite things to eat, so when I saw it on the menu of the restaurant I would be living next to, well, it made me quite happy! So, when the waitress came and asked for our order, I said I wanted the steak, and she said, “okay, do you want pork steak, or turkey steak?” Now, to me this was very confusing, because those things aren’t steak. And to her it was very confusing because, she also did not understand what I wanted.


1 Peter 2:11 says

Beloved, I urge you as foreigners and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.


As Christians, the things we do, or the things we say can be hard, or even impossible to understand. Someone who doesn’t have a relationship with Christ won’t understand why you donate 10% of your income, your tithe, to your church, for example. 

Both my wife and I have parents who support our decision to live here, but we also know of people like us, who work with churches in other parts of the world whose families are very angry with them for living so far away, for taking their grandchildren so far from them. 

As Christians, we have very specific views on marriage, that don’t always line up with what the world is saying. Our family and friends who are not Christ-followers may not understand why. 

People work very hard during the week, and the weekend is seen as very special and private. Most people have a hard time understanding why we would spend our Sunday mornings in church, instead of doing something else.


When we are surrounded by so many different views, views that often imply that we are “strange” or “weird” or “wrong”, it can be very hard to shut those voices out. However, we know that we are compelled to sacrifice our lives because of the love Jesus has shown us. 

We understand that our tithe supports the running and ministry of the church we love so much. As 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, God loves a cheerful giver. We know that we are being obedient in our hearts when we give. 

Those of us who choose to work with churches understand that God has a call – for everyone – and we are simply answering that call. We are humbled that God would choose to use us.

We understand that God’s parameters for marriage are made out of His love for us, and because of the beautiful image God uses to describe the church as his bride.

We understand that as Christians, there is nowhere we would rather be, than with fellow believers, worshipping the Lord who created us, saved us and loves us. It is not a “sacrifice” of our time, but rather a joy to spend time in the house of the Lord.


As people not of this world, others around us often don’t understand us. But we are not made for the approval of man, but rather God’s.


3.   The World Doesn’t Feel Like Home


Now, this is the part of the sermon where my family’s experience differs from what I am going to share. Slovenia 100% feels like home. You have ALL been so kind and accepting of us. We love our neighbors, we love our children’s schools and teachers. We have never felt more at home as a family than we do here.


However, as Christians, this world does not always feel like home. Often we feel lost. We feel like we don’t belong. 


This is not accidental. Once we accept Jesus into our lives, there is nothing else in this world that will fill our hearts the way he does. There is now a longing in us to be with him. When we turn to this world to fulfill our needs – relationships, jobs, finances – we are taking our eye off of the fact that we are foreigners in this land. This world doesn’t feel like home because it’s not SUPPOSED to. It is not our calling. We are not to collect riches or accolades here, because the things of this earth will pass. 


Hebrews 11:13-16 says it this way

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.


That last bit is incredible. Because of the people’s desire for a heavenly country, God is not ashamed to be called their God. Wow. I want to be known like that. I want to be someone that God is not ashamed of. That if someone were to say, “the God of Daniel”, that God would smile, and say, “that’s me!”


When this world starts to feel like home – that’s when we need to start worrying. That means that we’ve replaced God with people or things. It means we have moved those things into the position of “God” in our lives. Those things or people can be anything – ambition, respect, financial stability, our children, our spouse, a job, what people thing about us… none of these things are inherently wrong, but when they become the most important things in our lives, it’s time to reevaluate. All of the things I mentioned earlier are things this world says should matter, that having these things will make us feel at home, but the truth is, that Jesus is our home. In John 15:4, Jesus invites us to “abide” in Him. 


4. Because we have Christ, we have hope


All the things that I have spoken about today are beautifully summed up in the whole 4thchapter of 2 Corinthians. I encourage you to take the time to read through it. It talks about our afflictions, about unbelievers not seeing the light of the Gospel, about being pressed on all sides – it’s almost as if it had been written in 2020.


As the chapter makes its way through all of that, it comes to the very last verse, verse 18 and says “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” To fix our eyes on something, we have to have hope, to know that it is here.


My wife used to be a ballerina, and one of the tricks ballerinas use for spinning, is to pick out a point on the wall, or in the crowd, and spin their head around quickly to find it each time. It helps keep the dancers from wavering, from falling, from losing their place. Keeping their eyes on a fixed mark. Much like Peter, when he stepped out of the fishing boat to walk to Jesus – the moment he took his eyes off of Jesus, he started to drown. Oh, if that isn’t exactly how this year has felt! Every single time we focus on the problems, on the difficulties instead of Jesus, we start to sink. Every time we focus on the COVID numbers, on the restrictions, on the losses, on the financial struggles, on the relationship strains, on the changed plans, on the people we miss – it just all starts to feel like too much, like water closing in around us. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, when we look to him, we reach out to him, to he who is our hope – we are saved.


People everywhere are feeling overwhelmed, anxious and depressed. Our friends and family who don’t have Christ are completely hopeless. Their faith in their jobs is shook, their faith in the economy is rattled, their faith in their health is gone – what does that leave?


But WE, we have faith in Christ. We know that whatever comes our way, that Christ is in control, and will guide us through. However, we are not meant to keep this hope for ourselves. We are called to share that hope with the person you were thinking about while I was talking about unbelievers a moment ago. That brother, sister, friend, coworker, neighbor – you are called by God to share his hope with them. I encourage you to find a way to reach out to them – the New Year is a terrific opportunity for that! Offer to help in any way you can. Offer to be a listening ear for them, to pray for them, to simply be there for them. We are God’s hands and feet here on earth, and we are called to love those whom he puts in our path.


Yes, we are foreigners in this land, and this year has shown that more than ever. Yes, it can be hard being a foreigner. Yes, people around us don’t always understand us. BUT we have hope in the sovereignty of God, of his provision, and of his love. Although we are foreigners in this land, this is our assurance. Much as foreigners find themselves, we are ambassadors of whom we represent. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says it this way, “therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” Our home is with Jesus, and we should strive to live our lives in such a way that it compels those we encounter to search for Jesus on their own. 


If I was the only American you ever met, your view on Americans would represent what you think of me. If I were rude and loud, you would probably think at least most Americans are like that. If I were kind and respectful when we met, you may think I’m just a nice person, but there would probably be a part of you that thought overall Americans must be that way.

It is the same with Christians. We may be the only Christian that our friends and family will meet. If we as people who claim Christ are unkind, angry, or dismissive towards people, then that will be their overall view of Christians. If, however, we are kind and loving, especially to those who don’t deserve it, if we feed the hungry, help the sick, love those who feel unlovable – then that is going to be their view of Christians, but most importantly Christ as well.


In this New Year, things may still feel very foreign for quite some time. I encourage you to love people anyway. You may feel a desire to just retreat into yourself and your own problems. Reach out to people anyway. You may be overwhelmed by everything going on. Be kind anyway. This world may not be our home, but God has placed us here as caretakers in the meantime. In fact, God loves this world and everyone in it more than we can even fathom.


Remember, John 3:16 says “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

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