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Home at Last

MEDITATION:

Written by Rev. Jan Cook, Associate Pastor at the Village Church.

The concept of exile involves leaving one’s place of belonging and being cut off from that which you have claimed as home. What a disorienting experience. It is a kissing cousin to grief. The recognizable landmarks are gone, the familiar is strange and decidedly unfamiliar, and an unrelenting yearning gnaws at you in your waking as well as the darkest part of night. I was born in Brawley, California, which is a small farming community in the Imperial Valley. I was raised in Brawley, Mendota, Fresno, Salinas, Modesto, Coalinga, and many other places along the fertile beltway, where my family, as migrant workers, followed the harvest. There was a sense of normalcy about this nomadic lifestyle when we were in the workers’ camps but outside of those camps, in the schools and the markets and shops and everyday town life, we were outsiders. I experienced an emotional exile, a shutting out, from the fabric of society that had planted roots and established long-term relationships with people and with place. The deep yearning to belong was imbedded into my soul.  Among the many ideas, beliefs and perspectives that took shape in those years was the transfer of place being a location to place being relationships. I came to identify my belonging with people rather than with geography. To this day, when I feel homesick, I recognize I am missing my mother, my father, my sister, rather than any house or town we had spent time in. This has made it easier at times to let go of material roots and invest in time with the people I love. My perspective of place as people positioned me to encounter Jesus Christ as a place of belonging. I had always had a deep sense of “other” in my life. This “other” gave me the understanding that my story was part of a much larger story and that I shared a larger story with all people. When I was introduced to Jesus Christ at age eleven, I recognized the “other” that had been a part of my life before I knew the name or the stories, and I knew that the exile was over and I was at last home.

PRAYER:

Written by Jan Cook, author of today’s meditation.

Creator God, I was shaped and formed by your loving hands and your holy breath awakened me into this world. I praise you and my spirit is lifted as I witness your grace-full movement in the world. Lord, the Psalmist reminds me that “there is no place I can go where you are not there, already waiting,” this comforts me and gives me the courage to step into the hard places of life. You lead me to be unafraid because you walk beside me, behind me, before me, I am embraced by your Presence. In you, exile does not exist, for wherever you are is my home. May I this day, loving God, be a worthy voice of welcome and love to all those who are lonely and estranged. May I this day, gentle Savior, be a force for reconciliation and justice, and may I this day, intimate Spirit, be a calming and comforting presence for the hurting, the grieving and those who seek your face.

War Refuge

MEDITATION:

Today’s meditation is from Exile International, which helps children abducted and orphaned by the war in DR Congo and Uganda.

Aude is a brilliant university graduate, pediatric nurse, Biblical counseling master’s candidate, and former child soldier. Though Aude is now pursuing his passions and serving his community through the practice of medicine, his story was not always this peaceful.  In 2005, Aude was captured and enslaved by the rebel group CNDP. After six months of training, he obtained ranking within the military group and was forced to begin countless looting operations that often ended with blood on his hands. One afternoon, after two years of enslaved misery, a rebel leader asked those who were unhappy and wanted to go home to come forward. Some thought it was a genuine idea, but those who stepped up were killed immediately in front of the entire army. Aude stood helplessly — watching many of his friends lose their lives in front of his eyes. Deeply traumatized, all Aude could do waspray that God would save him. His prayers were answered in 2007 when he was rescued by government soldiers and reunified with his community. Four years after his initial capture, Aude received the life-saving trauma counseling and holistic rehabilitation he needed to heal from his wounds of war. The education, leadership training, and discipleship Aude experienced paved the way for his future dreams to become a reality — providing opportunities for him to learn about everything from science to theology in a safe and loving environment. Aude’s life has been transformed. He is now a leader for peace in his community — serving others and sharing the love of Christ with war-affected families. In addition to nursing at a local clinic, Aude is now pursuing a master’s degree in Biblical counseling to further serve survivors of war, helping them heal from emotional trauma in addition to physical illnesses and injuries. Aude recently married a wonderful young Christian woman who is also a nurse! From slave of war to leader for peace, we praise God for the difference Aude will make in his community and nation for years to come.

PRAYER:

Written by Benedict XVI (1927-2022), Pope of the Catholic Church from 2005-2013.

God grant that violence be overcome by the power of love, that opposition give way to reconciliation, and that the desire to oppress be transformed into the desire for forgiveness, justice, and peace.  Amen.

Saint Patrick’s Exile

MEDITATION:

Written by Debra Paxton-Buursma, a contemporary professor and author.

St. Patrick, a Roman by ancestry, lived along the English coast in the fifth century AD, 350 years after Christ. This was a time when others in Egypt, Italy, and Istanbul were choosing to retreat from the world in their search for God. Despite his grandfather’s role as a cleric and his father’s status as a Christian nobleman, young Patrick distanced himself from Christianity, embracing all the world had to offer—that is, until he was kidnapped by pirates (the stuff of movies!) and brought to what we now call Ireland. Exiled from home and family, without the luxury of technological advancements, St. Patrick was enslaved and immersed in a pagan culture of witchcraft, spells, and spirits. In response, he reached for the thing he took for granted as a kid: the love of Christ. In an exile with massive loss and incomprehensible threats, Patrick found God real and present, and he immersed himself in a spiritual journey. In time, Patrick escaped, returned to England, received formal training in the church, created a following of monks, embraced a deepening understanding of a trinitarian God, and headed back to Ireland as a missionary despite constant threats on his life. Patrick was credited for evangelizing Ireland and became known as St. Patrick, celebrated every March amid shamrocks, corned beef, and sauerkraut. No one really knows if Patrick actually penned the prayer; however, legend has it that this prayer of protection, the Lorica, was recited when he and his band of monks traveled about preaching. On one particular trip to the king’s court, Patrick became aware of druids lying in wait to ambush and kill Patrick and his monks, so they chanted the sacred Lorica. The druids reported they never saw St. Patrick and his monks that day and instead only saw a gentle doe followed by several fawns—thus the title of the prayer: “The Deer’s Cry,” which would be later called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” St. Patrick’s exile brought him into communion with Christ, into a place for discerning bold actions, and into a creative testimony: a prayer for protection that witnesses to the presence and power of trinitarian God. The prayer inspired by St. Patrick’s exile experiences intersects with our places of exile. 

PRAYER:

Written by St. Patrick (AD 385-461), a Christian missionary and bishop who served in Ireland.  This prayer is known as the sacred Lorica.

Christ to shield me today against poisoning, against burning, against drowning, against wounding. … Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

MEDITATION:

Written by Lyn Lloyd-Smith from the Village Church.

On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand, All Other Ground Is Sinking Sand.

The parable of the wise and foolish builders was a foundational story in my childhood. I was drawn to the imagery; I saw myself standing on the rock that was Jesus while the swirling sand around me was washed away.  And now, as I think of the theme of exile, I come back to this story.

Life had taken me many places, most recently to Southern California with its earthquakes and wildfires, sparkling ocean, and glorious summers. My moves have always been by choice, I have not faced the difficulties of the refugee, I am free to return, I can stay in touch with my loved ones. Yet, there are elements of exile that are common to all those who have left their homeland.  You can never truly leave, and you can never truly go back. Those foundations that were built within your culture and country continue to play an important role in your life and you must adapt, sometimes with difficulty, to where you find yourself. If you do return, you find that those adaptations have changed you and your home has moved on since you left it. The disorientation can be profound.

I go back to the parable of the rock.  I had always thought of that rock as being static, unmoving, but rather than immovable, I now understand it to be unchanging. The thing about building your life on Jesus is that, like the floating foundations, built to withstand the Californian earthquakes, the rock does not change, it moves with you, keeps you orientated, and when the tremors of life come, your true and constant homeland is in Jesus and his endless love for you.

PRAYER:

Today’s Prayer is written by Paul Dhinakaran, a contemporary leader of  “The Jesus Calls Ministry” and education leader in India.

Loving Father, Thank You for teaching me this truth about who You are. Lord, You are the Rock of the Ages and my Rock in whom I trust. Satisfy me with Your finest blessings and all spiritual blessings, especially Your very nature and to be built upon You so that I will not be moved. I give You all glory. In Jesus’ precious name, I pray. Amen.

Time in the Wilderness

MEDITATION:

Today’s meditation is from the Heartlight website, which provides positive resources for daily Christian living.

Moses learned the bitter reality of losing his status and his place of privilege in Egypt. We can’t fully imagine everything Moses lost moving from the palace of Pharaoh to the wilderness of Sinai. God often lets life humble a person before he uses that person mightily. John, the Baptizer, was raised in the wilderness.  Jesus worked in obscurity as a carpenter’s son for thirty years before his ministry, and then still had to face forty days in the wilderness. Paul, the apostle, trained to be a rabbi, then had his life dramatically changed. He spent nearly a decade and a half in the wilderness of obscurity in the biblical record. Life humbled Moses, yet God did not waste those forty years in the wilderness. His experience while leading sheep in Sinai prepared him to lead God’s people. The places and problems he faced in that wilderness prepared him to lead God’s people through that same wilderness. So, if you find yourself in a wilderness time in your life, remember that God will not waste your struggles. He will use your hard times to hone your faith and prepare you for his future!

PRAYER:

Today’s prayer is by the same author as today’s meditation.

Give me strength, O LORD, not to waver or quit in my wilderness times. Give me courage and faith to keep following you no matter where you lead. I commit to faithfulness and courage while I depend on your Holy Spirit to empower and transform me. I ask and pledge this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Personal Exile

MEDITATION:

Written by H. Wayne Ballard, Jr., a contemporary author. This is an excerpt from his book “The Exile and Beyond.”

2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36 are perhaps two of the saddest chapters in the entirety of the Old Testament…The stories of hope and inspiration found in the tales of the patriarchs, the conquest, and the establishment of the monarchy must have seemed so far away at this moment in history to the people of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians have wiped out the city of Jerusalem, the temple, and the hopes and dreams of an entire nation. With this simple act, the exile has begun—an age where the elite of Judah who survived the atrocities described in the book of Lamentations were driven from the land of promise to a foreign land where they lived as political prisoners of the great Babylonian Empire. Many of the leaders of Judah were simply killed. Those left behind had no one to lead them, to encourage them, or to show them a way out of their newfound predicament. There was little or no hope. Sometimes in our world, there are many who find themselves in a similar situation. The loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship or marriage, terrible news of a newly discovered illness, or a host of other maladies can invade our lives. We, too, live among people who are enduring their own personal ‘exiles” every day…Though life brings periods of trial at various points in our lives, we are also challenged with how we respond to the obstacles that lay before us. Will we choose to live the remainder of our days in the land of exile, or will we return to our ancestral homelands and take up the challenge of rebuilding our lives into something new and fresh?

PRAYER:

Written by Debbie McDaniel, a contemporary Christian writer.

Dear God, in this season of Lent, we’re reminded of our own difficulties and struggles. Sometimes the way seems too dark. Sometimes we feel like our lives have been marked by such grief and pain, we don’t see how our circumstances can ever change. But in the midst of our weakness, we ask that you would be strong on our behalf. Lord, rise up within us, let your Spirit shine out of every broken place we’ve walked through. Allow your power to be manifest through our own weakness, so that others will recognize it is You who is at work on our behalf. We ask that you would trade the ashes of our lives for the beauty of your Presence. Trade our mourning and grief for the oil of joy and gladness from your Spirit. Trade our despair for hope and praise. We choose to give you thanks today and believe that this season of darkness will fade away. Thank you that you are with us in whatever we face and that you are greater than this trial. We know and recognize that you are Sovereign, we thank you for the victory that is ours because of Christ Jesus, and we are confident that you have good still in store for our future. We thank you that you are at work right now, trading our ashes for greater beauty. We praise you for you make all things new. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Rescue From Exile

MEDITATION:

Written by Nina Pope from the Village Church.

Exile is a lonely place—to me, the image that the word evokes is enduring sadness, isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness. It is the place that most everyone has been at one time or another and the place no one wants to be. Exile can be self-inflicted or circumstantial, and either way it is painful. Although not fully understood then, the grace of God hauled me out of a time of exile many years ago. I entered college with expectations that were fully unmet; I was taken by surprise that the experience I was having did not in any way resemble the vision I expected – for the first time in my life, I was the proverbial fish out of water and was stunned. Eventually, I connected with a few others who shared some common interests and thus began emerging from the overpowering exile that had overtaken me. Years later when I read the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph, who was stranded by his brothers in that pit hoping for rescue, I could identify.

Joseph waited, and God’s mercy and grace removed him from the pit and eventually lifted him to unexpected heights of glory and reconciliation with his family. Like Joseph’s, my own release from exile had a great impact on my future years. In retrospect, I realize God’s hand has always been on me. In good times and harder times, God has always escorted me, and I stake my very existence on that fact. All Fall, Jack immersed us in the notion that we build our lives on a foundation of infallible rock, so that no matter what comes our way, and the chips are down, there is no exile for us because we cling to the embrace of a caring, powerful, and triumphant God.

PRAYER:

Today’s Prayer is written by Christina Fox, a contemporary counselor, writer, speaker, and author.

Father in heaven, you are my rock. My shelter and place of safety. You are my firm foundation. You do not change. Nothing can move you. I thank you that in Christ, I am safe. He is my refuge and my fortress. Nothing and no one can snatch me from him. May these truths be my comfort and strength in these uncertain times. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Live Deeply

MEDITATION:

Written by Rebecca Madden, a contemporary director of Women’s Ministry.

Almost twenty years ago, Jay and I packed our four-year-old son, seven-year-old daughter, dog, and personal belongings in a Honda van with forty years worth of memories from a life in South Carolina in tow. We left our families, our friends, our church, and everything we had ever known for Jay’s adventure into full‑time ministry in Chicago. We also left our dream home with “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs in the yard. When we arrived in Chicago, we didn’t know a soul who lived there. I honestly felt like I had been carried into exile—especially when I was faced with shoveling a driveway full of snow while Jay was away at seminary. Don’t people know you don’t have to live like that?  In his book Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson defines exile as “we are where we don’t want to be.” I think for the past eighteen months we have all been living in exile. Our freedom to go and do whatever and whenever was halted. Our paradigms completely shifted. According to Peterson, while the Hebrews were in exile, they thrived. They prayed more deeply. They were more creative. They discovered purpose, love, and meaning. Though they lost everything they thought was important, more importantly, they found God. The goal of our lives is not to live as comfortably as possible but to live as deeply as possible right where God has planted us—even while in exile.

PRAYER:

Today’s Prayer is written by Rebecca Madden, author of today’s meditation.

Dear Heavenly Father, I have been restless during this season and am ready for this exile to be over. Help me to find my rest in You. Help me to create, love, laugh, and dig down deep right where I am today. Amen.

Thrive Where You Are

MEDITATION:

Today’s meditation is an excerpt from “The Message Devotional Bible.”

Exile is traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of who we are is very much determined by the place we’re in and the people we’re with. When those things change violently and abruptly, we wonder who we are. The accustomed ways we have of finding our worth and sensing our significance vanish. When the first wave of emotion recedes, we’re left like a broken shell on a vast expanse of beach, in a suddenly foreign place, feeling that we are worthless and that our lives are meaningless…Israel’s exile was a violent and extreme form of what all of us experience from time to time. Inner experiences of exile can take place even if we never move from the street where we were brought up. We are exiled from the womb and begin life in strange and harsh surroundings. We are exiled from our homes at an early age and find ourselves in the demanding world of school. We are exiled from school and have to make our way the best we can in the uncertain and sometimes unsettling world of work. We are exiled from our hometowns and have to find our way through the disorientation of new states and unfamiliar cities. The essential meaning of exile is that we find ourselves separated from home. Exile is an experience of dislocation—everything is out of joint; nothing fits together.

One day two men from Jerusalem—Elijah and Gemariah—appeared unannounced in Babylon. They had come on official business, carrying a message to the king. On their way to the palace, they visited the Hebrew community in exile. They came bearing a message from Jeremiah, who had received the message from God. “Build houses and make yourselves at home,” Jeremiah told the exiles (Jeremiah 29:5). You aren’t camping. This is your home. This may not be your favorite place, but it is a place. Dig foundations; build houses; develop the best environment for living that you can. If all you do is sit around and pine for Jerusalem, your present lives will be squalid and empty. “Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country,” he told them. Enter into the rhythm of the seasons. Become a productive part of the economy of the place. “Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you” (verse 7). The Hebrew word for “welfare” is shalom, which means “wholeness”—the dynamic, vibrant health of a society that pulses with divinely directed purpose and surges with life-transforming love. Jeremiah essentially told the people, “Seek shalom. Throw yourself into the place you find yourselves. Not on its terms but on God’s terms. Pray. Search for that center in which God’s will is being worked out, and work from that center.” Jeremiah’s letter was a rebuke and a challenge to the Babylonian exiles: “Quit sitting around feeling sorry for yourselves. The aim of people of faith isn’t to be as comfortable as possible but to live as fully as possible. You will be in Babylon for a long time. You had better make the best of it. Don’t just survive—thrive. The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you have to live by faith is in the circumstances you’re experiencing this very day—in this house you live in, in this family you find yourself in, and in this job you’ve been given to do.”

PRAYER:

Today’s Prayer is from “The Message Devotional Bible.”

Dear Lord, help me not to feel sorry for myself because of where you’ve called me to live my life. Whether I’m living in Jerusalem or Babylon, you’ve called me to yourself, to love you, to trust you, to obey you. Help me to see that you’ve also called me to more than that. You’ve called me to make the best of whatever exile I find myself in, to bless those around me, however foreign they may seem to me.  Amen.

The Long Way

MEDITATION:

Written by Vickie Stone from the Village Church.

A few years ago, a story in the Daily Word by Leslie Koh made me recall as a Human Resources professional the times I saw employees and supervisors be impatient with the pace of the climb up their career ladders.) Leslie told of a young employee, Benjamin, who was frustrated when his colleagues were promoted ahead of him.  Some of his family and friends would ask him “how come you’re not yet a manager? You deserve it.” But Benjamin decided to leave his career in God’s hands and figured if he learned all he could and did his job well, God’s plan for him would become evident. After a few years, Benjamin was indeed promoted and by then, his additional experience gave him the skills he needed to be confident in his job, but more importantly, won him the respect of his subordinates. In the meantime, several who were promoted ahead of Benjamin were struggling with their supervisory responsibilities, as they were promoted before they had the experience and skills to be effective. Benjamin realized God had taken him “the long way around” so he would be best prepared for his role.

Like the Israelites being led by God out of Egypt. God chose a longer way because the “shortcut” to Canaan was filled with perils. Bible scholars have observed that this gave the Israelites more time to build themselves up physically, mentally, and spiritually for subsequent battles. The shortest way isn’t always the best. Sometimes God lets us take the longer route in life, whether it’s in a career path or other endeavors, so that we’ll be better prepared for the journey ahead. When things don’t seem to happen quickly enough, we should trust always, in God, the One who leads and guides us. Ask God to help you trust in His sovereign plan and purpose for your life.

PRAYER:

Written by Lori Freeland, a contemporary author.

Lord, I’m stuck in a place I don’t want to be. It seems everyone else is speeding forward. It’s so hard to watch sometimes. What if my life always looks and feels this way? Things have to change. I must move on. I need something new right now.  But that’s not your way. You want me to grow when I want to run away. Soothe my anxiety. Take away my desperation. Stretch my perseverance. Thank you for knowing what’s best for me. Thank you for helping me let go and giving me the patience to wait on your timing not mine.   Amen.