“For the Christian, it should be easy to identify strongly with the foreigner, with the one in need of an Exodus. Have we forgotten we were in Egypt?”

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” - Deuteronomy 10:19

Outsiders Brought In

I am an outsider. I was born that way. Sadly it’s not in the James Dean sense, but in the book-of-Romans-enemy-of-God sense. But in that enemy situation, as a kid in Kansas, I found God’s grace. I understood the part that saved me, and enjoyed it. Then, slowly, He showed me that this grace might also be for my friend up the street. That’s why I would find myself listening to Pearl Jam in my friend’s room while we read Matthew.

God has been stretching my heart toward the dimensions of His own ever since. Honestly, I’m not sure it will stretch that far. And that’s super frustrating to me. I’m sure you know the feeling. But Philippians seems confident it will stretch—for all of us (Phil 1:6). He knows what He’s doing. But sometimes the stretching is painful. Like the time I read Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in college and proceeded to declare to my fiancée that I would be getting her as cheap a ring as possible from some random pawn shop. But again, grace: she still married me (after a trip to the mall, of course).

Then, after the mall, we moved to Tajikistan together (naturally), and, man, God really started to work on our hearts. Nothing like remote Central Asia to recognize your need for further elasticity in your beating discipleship muscle! It felt a bit like a quintuple bypass, not so much due to the Tajiks’ heavily oily food as from the life-long hardening of our spiritual arteries, arteries in need of some dramatic attention. But fortunately, in addition to His being the Great Physician, He is also a great surgeon.

At many times in my Christian life I have felt that a heart transplant would have clearly been the way to go, to just give me a heart that mirrors His own in one shot. Instant sanctification. But God’s all about the stretching process. It’s always about a simmering redemption of our heart within us.

And so, with many twists and turns along the way, God has brought me here to Cornerstone and to Grace Iranian church where He continues to deftly orchestrate in my heart, as He does in yours. Of course, I’m still an outsider at Grace Iranian Church, but that doesn’t matter. We’re too tightly bound in Christ for it to matter. It’s family. 

It’s an interesting thing to be an outsider in this time between His advents. On the one hand, we’re no longer outsiders in Him, while simultaneously we’ve never been more so. Yes, we are now sons and daughters; and also, yes, we are sojourners with staff in hand this side of the great Passover, moving further and further away to join Christ outside the camp (Heb 13:11-13). It’s a question of fundamental identity, really. Who are we? Americans? Yes. Primarily? Praise the Lord, no.

Identifying with the Foreigner

So, honestly, for the Christian, it should be easy to identify strongly with the foreigner, with the one in need of an Exodus. Have we forgotten we were in Egypt? As we call to our neighbor up the street, or to our own brother, or the Iranian, we call them to both cease to be an outsider and to join us much further outside the camp than they thought existed. We’re pilgrims; but pilgrims who get involved, pilgrims who invite others to the margin, until that great day when the margin becomes the center.

But it does take time for the center to grow. Do you remember in the story of Abraham, how at the very end of his life, just as he did with Ishmael years earlier, he sends all of his sons by Keturah away. He prepares a place at the center for Isaac to thrive. And is that it? Is that the end of the story for Ishmael and the six sons of Keturah? Is that God’s heart? To send the sons and their nations away? Of course, we know the answer. As Isaiah chapter 60 famously states: 

“For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about you and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms.” (Isaiah 60:2-4)

And Isaiah continues by naming some of the peoples who come running. Not surprisingly they are the very nations descended from the sons Abraham sent away in Genesis. And they are coming to offer acceptable worship as expressed in verse 7: “They will go up with acceptance on my altar, and I shall glorify My glorious house.” Ishmael and Midian’s families have been drawn home to the altar.

And that’s what God does. No sending away or transplants. Always redemption: buying back, drawing home. When God’s plan through Isaac reached Christ, when the light rose upon us, everyone sent away into the darkness comes running home to be accepted. The center has grown into a house expansive enough for everyone.

So, if he’s opened the gates for you to come running through into His glorious acceptance, if He’s orchestrated the light of Christ to rise upon you, then His heart for you is crystal clear: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” (vs.1) It’s time to share the light, to help everyone come streaming back. And they, just like you and me, by a powerful grace for all peoples, will be accepted. That’s His heart: all the peoples return home to offer acceptable worship in his glorious house.

Putting It Into Practice

Now for a few words about implementation. Of course, it’s all about maintaining that initial perspective which was made clear at the beginning of this: I’m an outsider; you’re an outsider. And we must not just maintain this perspective, but grow in it. To deepen into the full dimensions of His love; to grow in our understanding of grace; to feel the stinging warning of the unmerciful servant; and to recognize the pounding steps of the Father, running towards each one of us, His prodigals, His lost sheep. The gospel given to us outsiders should supernova our hearts.

The older we grow in the faith, the more radical we should become. Maybe when we were young, we mistook as spiritual maturity and a heart after God’s for the outsider, a simple wanderlust or what any actuary would have pinpointed more accurately as a typical, young, rash insurance risk. I used to think a lot in Tajikistan about the verse “some trust in chariots and some in horses…”, and usually I felt we were doing okay on that count. We were standing as far outside the camp as our parents thought possible at any rate, especially when the grandkids started showing up.

But as I’ve grown older, I sense a growing concern to circle the wagons and be conservative. And there is suddenly an increased interest in growth and income funds. My heart strains in new ways to remain outside the camp. But God’s heart is out there. And that’s where we find common ground to pitch a tent with the outsider. So we must remain game to camp, to haul water, to gather sticks, to be a bit sticky ourselves, to do whatever "camping" requires even as we age.

We must defy the actuaries and not plateau in developing a heart for the outsider or fade in our connection with our true identity as sojourners. If anything, death approaching should free us to ever more radical outsider thinking and behavior. And really, with the resurrection looming, what’s to lose? So, let the world see us Christians as those crazy people always bounding off to risk much. Our growth and income fund is elsewhere. All chips in. After all, if Christ taught us anything, it is that conservatism is reckless, and recklessness is absolute safety.

Call it catching the fever of His glory. Call it crazy-contagious radiance. And don’t worry, He’s going to get us all there to overflowing in the end. (I must keep reminding myself of this when I get discouraged.) His heart is the great wedding feast. What a joy to get to pass out the invitations! Yes, of course, frame the one for yourself. But then, get to sending out the others. And remember, there is no postal code which lies outside His deliverance. His heart is for every outside inch of His world.

Jamie G.

Jamie serves as a pastor with Grace Iranian Church.

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