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Being Christian in a Post-Christian America

More than ever, it seems that in our daily lives we encounter words, lifestyles, values and culture we hardly recognize. Alumnus and pastor, David Sharpes challenges us to live as those in exile.  

By David Sharpes ('84) 

In the book of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah has been taken captive and exiled to Babylon. In Jeremiah 29:4-14, God gives specific instructions for how he desires his exiled people to live among their captors in the “city of man.” He writes in part:

4 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: 5 “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. 6 Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 7 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.”

This message feels much too encouraging for people taken away from family, friends and the familiar. In what should be another opportunity to don sackcloth and ashes, we read instead an admonition of how the people of God are to “be” in the midst of circumstances of less than what was hoped. The natural propensity to persevere until rescue arrives is met by God’s instruction to faithfully live, grow and be a blessing wherever planted. Even in exile, God has not abandoned; nor has God’s purpose changed for his people to be a blessing to others. 

In America, the Judeo-Christian ethic of our country’s founders established a framework for how we understood ourselves as “one nation under God.” Today, as familiar expressions of those foundations erode, Christians are being challenged to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God while exiled from Christendom. This has caused much grief and made difficult the process of finding hope. How do we now live as Christians in post-Christian America?

Instead of grieving our “losses” or defaulting to hollow attempts to find politically driven or other idolatrous solutions, imagine how we can be faithful in this new land. Consider the biblically descriptive ways found in the stories of ancient Israel offering insights on how to live faithfully while in exile. 

First, lament. Give an honest voice to the grief over what led to exile. The exilic Psalms (44, 74, 79, 89, and 137) provide biblical foundation for giving expression to life in exile. To lament was to provide a way to name their hurt and ask difficult questions. We need to find a voice for our losses, not by complaining or blaming, but by truly lamenting our culpability and that of a world marred by sin. Biblical lament expresses itself by speaking Truth in love to and about the ways of the City of Man while seeking to live as citizens of the Kingdom, in the City of God.

Second, repent. For ancient Israel, repentance broke through their lament and gave way to the language of confession in their prayers. What they grieved, they confessed; their culpability, their guilt, their sin, and where they found themselves as a result. They repented on behalf of themselves and others before God. The Psalmist writes, help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake (Psalm 79:9). Godly sorrow leading to repentance opens the door for new activity of God in and among us. 

Lastly, there is hope—always hope. Even in exile, the presence of God is known in fresh and unexpected ways. The Psalmist wrote that even in the valley of the shadow of death there is no fear because God is present in ways that only loss invites. In difficult and drastically changing circumstances, the Church hopes in exile when we honestly seek God and ask him to take our suffering. This allows Him to move in and among us in fresh ways.  Paul wrote to the Romans, we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (Romans 5:3-5).

It is the heart-cry of the faithful living in exile to express our abject need for God’s holiness in greater ways than before, helping us to be sanctified and different in our purpose and passion from our hosts, even if our hosts are our persecutors or captors. In doing so, we present ourselves as salt and light; as “blessers” through whom the faithful presence of God is lived in an alternative community of transforming love.

1 In the book The City of God, Augustine noted that the city of man was symbolized throughout the Bible by the city of Babylon.

David Sharpes has been pastor of Olathe College Church since October 2014.  He is a 1984 graduate of MNU. He has been married to Carol (McCollough) for 31 years. They have two children, Jonathan, age 28 (wife Katelyn) and Hannah, age 18.  

 

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Summer 2018

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