Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dying to Self in Exile

I've been thinking about my "exile" from institutional church. There are so many layers to this "thought" but I'll just spend some time reflecting on one- for now.

Biblical examples of the exilic experience with whom I find myself identifying include Joseph (OT), Moses, John the Baptist and Paul. Each of these found themselves "exiled" from the mainstream arena. They were in situations that placed severe restrictions on their self-perceived ability to make a difference in their world. And they either couldn't or wouldn't change it themselves. Their self-promotion had to die.

For Joseph, for doing the right thing he was placed in an Egyptian prison. For receiving a dream (he didn't make it up) from God (supposedly) he lived in obscurity. He did what he thought would be right. He shared his dream to others who were not receptive to either the dream or him. He worked hard in the situations he found himself in trying to find an escape but even when he was successful in those settings, he couldn't fulfill the dreams by his own power. It wasn't until God prompted the memory of the baker (two years after the incident he remembered) that Joseph had his moment of God-ordained destiny. In other words, someone had to come for Joseph at the right time (God's time?) to free Joseph from his exile.

For Moses, who thought he was doing the right thing in God's eyes by using his unique position as an "Egyptian" to defend his fellow Jews, a 40 year exile in Midian was arranged by God. No doubt Moses had plenty of questions and had to die to himself before God would be God (and not Moses). Even after the burning bush (and wouldn't we all wish for that!) he had to wait for someone to come get him. Aaron was God's instrument of retrieval for Moses.  

John the Baptist was the son of a priest so his future was secure. But instead of finding him doing the priestly duties clothed in priestly garb, we find him in the wilderness dressed like a nomad. Did he have a publicist? Did he create a blog and post his "ministry" on facebook? Yet all of the people WENT OUT to him in the wilderness. They came to him. I can only assume that in God's timing and in God's way people became aware and without any self-promotion on John's part, he did what God arranged for him to do until his time was over- a fact that it seems John found difficult to accept.

Paul may be the best example. Here is the Christian wunderkind, the bad boy that gets saved, a celebrity in the fold! All of the Christian world is rejoicing because the Christian-killer is now one of us. His rising star in Judaism has been converted to one that now promotes Jesus as Messiah! I'm sure that not only did the community of faith feel lucky to have this personality in their corner, but perhaps Paul himself felt that they and God were lucky to have him, too!

So it's off to exile in Tarsus! What? The elders sent him to obscurity in his home town just when it appeared that his presence was really creating "revival". He ended up in Tarsus for 10-12 years. This must've been so difficult at first. How could he have encountered Jesus, been told he was going to influence Jews and Gentiles, and suffer for the Name- and be in Tarsus? He was no longer on the Pharisaic dole and was earning a living making tents. Didn't both the Christian community and the Judaistic leaders wonder what had become of him? Why had he disappeared? Paul wondered how he was going to fulill the words of Jesus while doing NOTHING in Tarsus.

Yet it doesn't appear that he did anything to change it. Both he and those who had expectations for him had to die to those expectations and let God be in charge. Paul had to die to his celebrity and his intelligence so that Jesus would be large and in charge. So he waited. He didn't know when or if he would have a "ministry". He didn't have an alarm on his cell phone indicating when Barnabas would come looking for him or if anyone cared he was gone. But one day, out of the blue, Barnabas shows up to free Paul from the necessary exile in which he found himself.
I assume that each of these men had to "let go and let God". Each of them no doubt came to a point where they knew and accepted that God was in charge of any "ministry" they might have. It was not up to them to promote or market their "call". It was up to God to prepare AND PLACE them in His time. And it always was in the hands of others to free them from exile.

Waiting and wondering in exile.

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