Faith for Exiles

With all the talk lately about the similarities between the exile and our recent pandemic, I almost forgot that there were many similarities between exile and the life of a Christian before the pandemic began. Sometimes we feel as if we are exiled to a different place as the culture shifts around us, even though we have not left our homeland.
This week I read Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock. It introduced me (and I am now introducing you) to a term I had never heard or considered: digital Babylon. The authors from Barna Research describe digital Babylon as “our accelerated, complex culture that’s marked by unlimited access, profound alienation and a crisis of authority.” They found in their research that each year the typical 15 to 23 year old takes in 2767 hours of screen media but only 153 hours of spiritual content. We would hope that churchgoing 15 to 23 year olds would be different, but even in that group it is only 291 hours per year. No one came in and hauled us off to another land. We stood in lines to bring the exile into our lives.
If you are expecting me to condemn screens and technology, that is not my point. Screens are here to stay and can be used for good as we have experienced with our online worship services and Bible studies for the past several weeks. But like the children of Israel, we have to learn how to be people of faith in Exile. The authors of the book found a group in their research that they called resilient disciples. These are the people living out their faith. They are Christians who trust the authority of scripture, affirm the resurrection of Jesus and want to help others learn about Him. The greatest common traits in that group are their connection with the church and the deep, intergenerational relationships they have there.
As a result of their research, the authors explain five practices that will help Christians living in the exile of digital Babylon. Since our current COVID-19 crisis and social distancing have a lot of similarities to exile, I believe they could apply here as well.
  1. Resilient disciples have a close relationship with Jesus. Through good times and bad our connection to the vine will help us to grow and provide what our faith needs.
  2. Resilient disciples consistently discern the good and bad in culture. We have to engage our culture at some level. Rather than run away like Jonah, we can learn and teach within it like the apostles.
  3. Resilient disciples have good intergenerational relationships. Scripture often emphasizes the importance of the relationships between younger and older followers of God. Those teachings still hold true.
  4. Resilient disciples are disciples within the workplace and other parts of life. It has never been clearer than it is now that our Christianity extends far beyond 505 West 17th Street. We must make Jesus a part of our jobs, homes, schools, neighborhoods and friendships.
  5. Resilient disciples are countercultural by being selfless. According to Philippians 2, this is the way Jesus approached His incarnation. It is what He taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It is how we can help the world around us see Him more clearly.
All of these things are biblical teachings, and they are all identifiers of resilient disciples. Resilient disciples are people who live in hope. Our exile ends in life with Him. Let’s live for Him until then.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4

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