Sunday, February 21, 2016

Seeking a Homeland, Part 1

“By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…”

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

“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. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

“If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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.” Hebrews 11:9a, 10, 13-16

I have tasted what it’s like to be a “foreigner” and a “stranger.” You would think after six years of living in Uganda, I would feel more at “home.”

Many aspects have become comfortably familiar – like how to get around by boat and motorcycle, the delicious local foods which I find myself craving, the nearly ever-present sunny days, how I now naturally adjust my American “accent” to be more understandable to the nationals, how I love the lively African worship, being accustomed to not understanding most of what is being said around me, taking cold bucket baths, and more.

But in me there’s an ache for home.

“Home” has been redefined for me. Most of us know it as the "familiar," a sense of where we belong, a place we're always welcome to, where we instinctively know the habitual patterns of life, and carry out activities without thinking. 

I love my American “home,” mostly because of the dear people there whom I love and miss so much. But, truthfully, I will never again be completely at “home” there. I have changed. And, what was familiar and normal there has become…different and less familiar. (I first wrote about this topic back in 2014.)

Yet, my longing to belong, to sense welcome, to know I fit somewhere is still there.

Hebrews 11 says Abraham was called to a place he didn’t know and he obeyed and went. He lived in tents, suggesting he wasn't a permanent citizen in the new place, though he was called to the land of his inheritance. If God had told me, “I want you to go to a strange new land and it will belong to you.” I would say, “Wow, let me pack all of my belongings ‘cause God has given me new digs!”

But Abraham lived in the land of promise…in a tent. What?! God essentially told him – “This land belongs to you and to your children and children’s children.” Yet, he chose to live in a fabric house? Why didn’t he put down roots?

Here in Uganda, people live in mud houses and huts, but when they decide to use brick and concrete, we say they are putting up a “permanent” home. In a sense, the mud structures are temporary – they don’t last forever. They break down, the mud needs replacing, or the termites eat the wood framing.
But when someone wants to stake a claim and basically say “I am here to stay” they put money and time and effort into what will last, building with strong materials.

So, why didn’t Abraham do this?

Because he looked forward to another city – an eternal, God-designed, God-constructed one - one that was to be forever.

God’s people Israel knew what it was to be exiles, pilgrims, foreigners and strangers. From the time of Abraham they sought their own place, their own place of belonging. They had that place until famine caused Jacob and his family to move to Egypt. After a time, their “home” became very unfriendly and “slaves” became their new job titles. After 400 years of serving someone else in a foreign land, God delivered them in the Exodus.

But when hard times came in transit, the people complained, “Let’s go back to Egypt. At least we know what’s there. This ‘home’ God is taking us to – we’ve never seen it. How do we know we’ll make it?”

God patiently put up with these stubborn people and eventually took them into their long-awaited home, the “Promised Land.” He even ousted the nations who had taken up residence in the Israelites’ absence.

In years to come God’s discipline meant His people would be taken captive by an enemy nation – forcefully carried into a strange, unwelcome land. And then the people would long to return “home.” Being returned to the motherland was the ultimate joy and blessing.

But was the “Promised Land” really where God intended His people to be at “home”?

As I’ve studied this idea of “exile,” I realize there’s too much for one post, so I will continue it.

Before I close, though, let me ask, “How do you view yourself in this world - as a pilgrim or a permanent resident?” 

How we view our stay on Earth and the implications of our perspective are very important.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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