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Live As Foreigners and Strangers

Hebrews 11:13-16

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

In my short thirty-one years of life, I have had the privilege of calling four states my home: the first eighteen in Nebraska, my college years in Iowa, eight years in Texas, and these last ten months in Ohio. With each new place that I have settled, there has been both a sense of excitement and of disorientation in starting over again.

I can remember my greatest transition came almost a decade ago as I packed up my Chevy Cavalier, a car barely big enough to make a road trip for three or four people, and embarked on the twelve-hour journey to Dallas, TX. With the excitement of beginning grad school in the near future, I can remember that this trip especially felt like a leap into the unknown, barely knowing anyone at my destination, Dallas Theological Seminary.

As I pulled into 3900 Swiss Ave, I can remember the anxiety, and fear, that weighed on my mind with the many uncertainties that lay ahead: a new degree program, new friends to make, a new community to become a part of, a new city to figure out, and soon, a new job to sustain me through my years of study. While admittedly I adjust to change better than most, this new season of change was undeniably DIFFICULT.

Yet, as time went on and I began to adjust to the new normal that was my life, it got better. With each new relationship I built, I began to feel like I belonged. With each new class I began to grasp, my understanding of why God had brought me there grew. With each new team I was privileged to work with in my role as an experiential educator, my sense of calling became more and more solidified. To put it simply, the more I stepped into the fog and longed for what God had ahead of me rather than clinging to what was behind me, the more I felt peace about what God had for me IN THE PRESENT.

The Book of Hebrews has always been a favorite of mine, as I imagine it has for many. The author of Hebrews masterfully weaves together a tapestry of arguments for his audience, pointing towards one unified truth: The Supremacy of Christ, who is above all things and mediates a better covenant. The letter, while deeply rich and complex, seeks to move his audience to accept the reality that with the coming of Christ, there is NO GOING BACK; Jesus, his mediating work through the cross, and the New Covenant that he brings to bear is the only way forward.

As the reader comes to the great exhortation beginning at 10:19, she is struck by the beckoning call to press onward, clinging to God and taking comfort “in the full assurance that faith brings” (10:22), a faith that is put on full display in Hebrews 11, famously known as the “Hall of Faith.” One by one, the author highlights the faith in action of many of Israel’s saints, commending them for their trust in God despite the surrounding circumstances. Most interesting, in my opinion, are the author’s comments at vv. 13-16, noting, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”

To speak of foreigners and strangers in our current cultural milieu, I will admit, has become a loaded conversation, for many it comes with great baggage, whether of political rhetoric or heightened emotions and opinions. Yet, regardless of where one lands on our modern American debate surrounding our borders, the New Testament writers point us to the reality that followers of Jesus will feel like, and should even have the mindset of, foreigners and strangers.

It is difficult for many of us to imagine sensing the same discomforts, fears, and anxieties of foreigners and strangers because of living in the most prosperous time and location in earth’s history, for most. Nonetheless, COVID-19 has brought with it a disruption and discomfort on a level they have never felt before.

While I encourage you to seek the rest and comfort in the Lord, as only the Lord Jesus himself can bring, I also encourage each one of us to embrace this time of discomfort, of dislocation. In embracing our status as foreigners and strangers on the earth, may we look and long for the coming Kingdom, our true home, as we await our coming King who will bring it in its fullness. Long for what God has AHEAD and cling not to what is BEHIND, taking rest in the full assurance that faith brings in the PRESENT.


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