July 2020 — pg. 11
What is it like to be such an oddity in this world that
we feel like a little girl in a foreign country, surrounded by
strangers who speak a strange language? Yet our little girl,
in her outsider status, went into classrooms, ate breakfast
at street stalls, rode public transit, and made friends, fully
appreciating the world around her as her own. So how do
we learn likewise to participate in our world, fully and
freely, yet knowing home awaits?
Strangers in a Strange Land
To solve this puzzle, let’s look at God’s picture for His
people from the beginning. When God called Abraham,
He called him to be a wanderer. As a stranger traversing
strange lands, he had one job — bless other people (Genesis
12:2). God set up His people right away to understand
that they are foreigners in a place that does not belong to
them. The people of God are referred to in Hebrew as ger
— foreigners, strangers, exiles. Peter uses a similar phrase
later — “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11
NLT) to describe Jesus’ followers, linking us to that same
The lesson continues. Moses chose to name his son
Gershom as part of that link. He wanted a constant
reminder that the people of God walk as strangers in this
world and always will. Their eternal priorities are different.
Their identity as people of the one true God sets them
The Israelites’ spiritual father was a nomad, their
ultimate identity an exodus people, strangers in a strange
land. From the beginning, God has ensured His people
could not forget their identity as aliens in the world. This is
all very, very intentional.
Sadly, they do forget, once settled in the Promised Land.
As they disobey God’s command by, not coincidentally,
refusing to treat the foreigners in their own land with
compassion and care, the people once again become exiles
This is the situation when Jeremiah offers the best
picture of being “in the world but not of it” that we find
“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: ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens,
and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children.
Then find spouses for them so that you may have many
grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! 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’” (Jeremiah 29:4–7 NLT).
God’s people are to live in this world that isn’t theirs,
making the best life they can there, and to bless their
neighbors by creating pockets of peace and well-being
wherever they are. They are told to work for shalom —
wholeness — in that place. This is the context we must
carry into the New Testament when we read the words of
Jesus and the apostles.
Not of the World
The New Testament stresses the idea of not belonging
to the world multiple times. Jesus said He did not belong
to the world and that His followers would not either
(John 15:19, 17:14,16). Paul admonishes not to “copy the
behavior and customs of this world” (Romans 12:2 NLT).
John explains that loving the world’s pride, possessions
and pleasures is inconsistent with being God’s people (1
“So how do we
learn likewise to
participate in our
world, fully and
freely, yet knowing