Archive for March, 2023

How to Survive Exile

Written by Richard T. Ritenbaugh, a contemporary pastor and author. This is an excerpt from his book “How to Survive Exile.”

Psalm 137 describes the bitterness of exile into which God forced Judah. Have we ever felt this way? Have we sighed and cried for the abominations of the church? That is what the Judeans who really learned the lesson of the exile did. It absolutely broke them down. They had to sit down and weep. There is something to exile, to scattering, that God finds very good. It is not all grief. We know that God does nothing that is not for our good – either immediately or ultimately. One of the results of exile, if a person responds to it, is repentance, which is what God is looking for. He wants our grief to be turned, as Paul says), into zeal, into putting our whole hearts into our sorrow and then into the fruit that can be built from it. He wants us to get angry that we allowed things to go so far and to clear it out. Anger can be used to scour away sin, to be righteously indignant. We can use it like Drano to clear the pipes and then direct that zeal to become righteous and holy once again, to do the things that God commands. God will do whatever it takes to get us on the same page with Him, and if it means turning our lives upside down, turning us inside out, He will do it because He loves us. He still has us in the palm of His hand. We are still the apple of His eye, but He is not like a modern liberal who will not punish. He is a God who knows how to produce sons and daughters, and sometimes the worst punishments produce the best results. If He thinks the punished person will cooperate and learn the lesson, God is willing to take it that far.


Today’s prayer is from a common lectionary in the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the heaven-rending words of the Spirit. Amen.

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Written by Nanci Hoffman from the Village Church.

When I arrived on the Hikara Maru and looked out over the sea of people on the dock, waiting to welcome their friends and/or relatives who had just arrived across the ocean from Seattle, I was astounded that just about all of them had black hair.  Coming from New Haven, Connecticut, I was used to crowds of multi-colored hair.  Anyway, my aunt picked me up and soon I was ensconced in my dormitory at the International Christian University in Mitaka.  There were about 15 students from the U.S., and we were all enrolled in the intensive Japanese Language course. I remember so vividly that Christmas Eve, after cookies and some caroling at Dr. Troyer’s home, sitting by myself on campus, missing my family so much. At 17 years old, my first Christmas Eve away from home, in a foreign country, I felt so alone.  I missed the Christmas Eve service we always attended at the First Methodist church on the Green, the gathering of friends and family at home, and the warmth of Mom and Dad as we prepared for our Christmas Day. I wanted to be back home with my family. It was cold on the bench, and I remember the tears on my cheeks felt cold. I was starting to feel so miserable.  Then I looked up at the stars and thought that the same stars were shining on Mom and Dad. I remember feeling a warmth radiating through my body as I thought of Mom and Dad singing the Christmas carols that we had sung at Dr. Troyer’s home. I remember feeling comforted knowing that we were celebrating Jesus’ birth together, even though physically separated by thousands of miles.  This happened 67 years ago, but I can still feel the comfort that my 17-year-old body felt on the cold bench, alone in Mitaka.  It was as if the sky was a huge canopy bringing love from one side to the world to the other through Jesus!


Written by Sarah Nicols, a contemporary writer.

Lord, we know whatever place we may find ourselves in today is only temporary, as this is our earthly home, yet we can’t help but long to be somewhere other than where we are. We know you are the Prince of Peace, but when we can’t control where we find ourselves, we tend to feel anxious. Help us release our worry to you and find the peace only you can offer. Help us to be present even in temporary spaces, glorifying you in each place we land.

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Written by Ben Van Arragon, a contemporary pastor.

Although I’ve never needed this advice, I read recently that one of the best ways to avoid a kidnapping is to fight back and make a lot of noise, in order to make it as difficult as possible to be taken. In short: don’t surrender. However, God told the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do the opposite. The Babylonian army had besieged the city. Jeremiah said the last thing Zedekiah and his people expected to hear: “If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire” (v. 17). God insisted that the exile to Babylon was his plan. His people’s only hope for salvation was surrender, because in surrendering to Babylon, they were surrendering to God. Surrender is the only right response to God’s will, following the commands of the Bible, in every situation keeping in mind that we belong to God, trusting that his saving purposes are in effect even when life is hard. Quoting a proverb, James wrote, “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:6-7). Surrendering to God does not guarantee that everything will go smoothly. But it does grant the peace of knowing that our lives are unfolding according to his perfect will. The most secure life is a life of surrender to the God who saves.


Today’s prayer is from the United Church of Christ Book of Worship.

God, who is more than we can ever comprehend, help us to seek you, and you alone. Help us to stand before all that we could do and seek what you would do and do that. Lift from us our need to achieve all that we can be and instead, surrender to what you can be in us. Give us ways to refrain from the busyness that will put us on edge and off center, give us today your peace. Amen.

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Cultural Tornado

Written by Roger Sappington, a contemporary author. This is an excerpt from his book “30 days in Exile: Living for Christ with Courage and Expectancy in the West.”

Today, many Christians in America feel as though they have been dropped via a cultural tornado into some strange, chaotic Oz. The place they call home just doesn’t feel familiar anymore…Truth is now subjective or irrelevant. Sexual ethics are Corinthian at best. Civility and decorum in broader public life (and especially in electoral politics) have been thrown by the wayside. Racial tensions appear to be continually on the rise. Religious liberty is in jeopardy. Though many would like to find a pair of ruby red slippers to make their way back to a more comfortable place, that is impossible …  “Kansas” was never as utopic as we remember it. That is not to say that one period may not have been more influenced by Christianity than another, it is simply to point out that in every era since the rebellion in the Garden, idolatry of some kind has held sway over every culture and every nation. This is why the New Testament regularly uses the metaphor of exile to describe the experience of God’s people. This place was never meant to be our home or feel like our home. As the writer of Hebrews wrote of the great men and women of the faith, “they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”. This world was foreign and unfamiliar to them. The word “exile” in the Greek means resident alien—a person who lives in one nation but holds citizenship elsewhere. And that is true of every Christian; though we happen to live in some nation on earth, our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. As Christians in America, we have always been resident aliens. It is just that in recent days that fact has become more and more clear. I know many of you feel discouraged by what you see happening within our culture and how that is affecting people in our churches. Though I, too, am concerned by what I see, I am also hopeful because the Lord continues to remind me of two things. First, he has been bringing to memory some of the historical periods of the Church that were also characterized by hostility from the broader culture. The first three centuries of the Church in the Roman Empire were absolutely representative of this. During that time, the Lord not only sustained his people, but “grew their number and, ultimately, their influence.” Second, the Lord continues to point me to truth from Scripture that settles my anxious heart. Maybe Jesus’ words to Peter are most relevant: “on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Regardless of how bad things get, the Church will not only endure, it will prevail.


Written by Mary Lou Kownacki (1942-2023), a Benedictine peace activist and author.

Thank you, Lord, for how you revealed truth about yourself to the people of Athens even through their pagan myths, helping to prepare their hearts for the true Gospel that would be preached to them by Paul. Thank you for Paul’s gentleness in preaching the good news of Jesus in a secular setting, and for his example of getting to know something about the secular culture to which he was bearing witness of the truth. Help me to learn from Paul’s example. Give me a deeper understanding of those around me that will enable me to build bridges rather than walls. Amen.

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Written by Peggy Stackle from the Village Church.

We moved to San Diego in 1965. Golly, could it possibly have been that long ago? I had truly been excited about moving to San Diego County. A new job had moved us here. New house, new neighbors, new schools for the boys. New places to shop! Our new house in Poway was the corner house of the subdivision so we had open space on two sides of the house … and rattle snakes and coyotes. Once the excitement of the move and rearranging of our lives was more or less settled, I realized that I didn’t have any old friends anymore. I just couldn’t get over the feeling of being isolated. There was no one to chat with, no one to ask questions, no one to go with for a cup of coffee. No one if I needed help.

I was born in Burbank, lived there all my life, never moved out of the San Fernando Valley until the day the moving van came and took us to Poway. My parents had been prominent in Burbank, both were involved with the church, the city, and socially active. Everybody knew my sister and me. I suppose I can admit this now, I got out of a ticket when I was 16 because the officer recognized my last name. He asked me if I was “Paul’s daughter” and I meekly nodded my head and said, “uh huh”. He said he wouldn’t give me a ticket, but he was going to tell my dad. My dad laughed when I told him. And he thanked the officer. The first thing I did was go find a church. Then I joined the choir. Finally, friends. And a place where I could settle and worship and grow in our new community.


Written by Candace Crabtree, a contemporary writer.

God, let us come before you with humility and a willingness to obey. Let us put others first and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we seek God first, putting aside our own desires. May we become intercessors for our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we pray more and criticize less. May we be encouragers and uplifters. Amen.

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Out of Darkness

Written by Russell Jeung, a sociologist of Asian Americans, race, and religion. He spent over two decades in assisting refugees to resettle in the United States. This is an excerpt from his book “At Home In Exile.”

Ultimately, God is making us a home, where he will host us as his guests and children. This honor at a party, as exemplified in the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), brings me to my final thought about being at home in exile. My neighbors and my daughters dislike being called “refugees.” They are disturbed by the stereotype of refugees as poor and hapless. Not surprisingly, they are ashamed of being displaced and without a home. As an Asian American, I can understand the deep sense of shame that a lot of Asians feel. I am very conscious of how others see me, and if I do lose face, I want to run away and hide. The Bible also talks about shame. It addresses this topic much more than it discusses the Western notion of guilt because Jesus lived in a shame-based culture. For every time guilt is mentioned in the Bible, shame is addressed three times as often. So, Jesus’ sacrifice not only deals with our guilt, but God also addresses the shame of our sin. While shame drives us away from God in embarrassment and fear, the death of Jesus reconciles us to him and restores our honor. This Asian view of salvation—that God rescues me from both my guilt and my shame—has revived my worship, such that I often weep upon taking Communion. I love singing about how God has brought me out of darkness and hiding into his marvelous light; about how I am unworthy, but he makes me blameless and pure; and that my shame is gone, and now I am honored as his child. I’ve always wanted to be special and unique in this world. What I’ve learned from my family and gained from my refugee neighbors is a more precious gift. I have come to realize that both now and, in the future, each of us is honored as a guest of the King. Even despite our temporary sufferings, in the midst of this fallen world, and in light of our shame, God knows our yearnings. Given his loyal love and his overwhelming peace, all of us—refugees, foreigners, aliens, and strangers—can learn to be at home in exile.


Today’s prayer is from the Universe of Faith website.

I come before you Lord, with all the things that make me feel shameful, weak, vulnerable. You know everything about me. You’ve seen me embarrassed, running breathlessly for a place to hide; you were with me when I was afraid. You know exactly what makes me feel insecure and fragile. And yet, you love me unconditionally. You look beyond all that fills me with shame and see me for the precious, unique person you created, a child of God. Help me to accept my limitations, my faulty tendencies, and my unhealthy attachments. Help me to embrace my wounds and expose them to your loving healing touch. Thanks for loving me just as I am. In you and only you I find my rest, Lord God, forever and ever. Amen,

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Family Exile

Written by Julie MacNeil, from the Village Church.

My mother came from a small town in Missouri. She lived among a large and loving extended family. The one exception was her father. He was abusive and often cruel. He made my grandmother’s life miserable, and her health declined because of it. She became thin and pale, and suffered from severe asthma, spending her nights sleeping in a chair, just to breathe. It was determined that the only way my grandmother could survive emotionally and physically, was to leave Missouri and go to California to stay with a cousin there. So, when they were 9 years old, my mother and her twin sister went to live with their grandparents. My mother, although she was loved and cared for by her grandparents, must have felt abandoned by the mother she adored. It broke my heart to hear her tell me that she used to go outside in the yard by herself, and say the word “Mother,” just to remember what it sounded like. The sisters received letters from their mother often, and packages with pretty dresses. But nothing could replace feeling their mother’s arms around them. She was away for 3 years. There must have been times when the sisters wondered if she would ever come back. But all that time, God was preparing a better life for my grandmother and her children. While she was away, she divorced her husband, a brave thing for a woman in her time to do. Her health returned. She found a job, probably the first of her life. She met a man and fell in love and married. The news of their mother’s marriage was met with great trepidation by the sisters. Was he nice? Was he kind? Did this mean their mother was never coming back? They asked their grandmother. Her answer was, “Don’t you know your mother would never do anything to hurt you?” This calmed their fears. Then one day, the door to their one-room schoolhouse opened, and there stood their mother, beautiful, smiling, and healthy! She had not abandoned them; she had come to get them and take them home. So, the shy, gangly twins, 12 years old by now, boarded a train with their mother and went to California to meet their mother’s new husband. They decided to call him “Daddy.” He welcomed them as his own. He is the only grandfather I ever knew and was dearly beloved by all the grandchildren.


Written by Dallas Willard (1935-2013), a professor of philosophy and author. His writings have changed forever how thousands of Christians experience their faith.

Gracious Lord, we are thankful to be drawn into your kingdom. We are thankful, wherever we are in our work, in our family, in our play, or whatever else may be happening, to know that we are under your kingdom rule, that heaven is over us, and that our God reigns. Lord, help us to be simple, humble, and thoughtful as we listen to others and help them come to faith in the One who has given us life. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen

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Missions For Exiles

Written by Alistair Begg, a contemporary Scottish pastor. This is an excerpt from his book “Truth for Life.”

We live in a society permeated by discontent. Commercials condition us to be envious. The real issue, though, is not so much the society we live in but the state of our own hearts and minds. We’re drawn away from contentment by so much which clamors for our attention: titles, possessions, influence, or fame. Yet all of these and more seek to rob us of any sense of joy in what God has given us, persuading us that it will never be enough. The case is never-ending. Paul, though, could say not only that he was content but that he could be content “in whatever situation I am.” This is what everyone is searching for! What was the secret, then? It was to ground his sense of self and his outlook on life in the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t champion a stiff upper lip in the face of hardship or offer a false gospel of self-sufficiency. No, his contentment was the result of bowing his heart and mind to God’s will, no matter what conditions he faced. Not everyone has lived on both sides of the street. Not everyone knows how the other half lives. But Paul did. He knew what it was to be warm and fed, and he knew what it was to be cold and naked. If he had derived contentment from his circumstances, his life would have been a constant roller-coaster ride, leaving him intoxicated by wonderful luxuries one minute and overwhelmed by their absence the next. Such a fickle spirit would have neutralized Paul, making him unable to serve Christ.  Paul was a normal man with normal needs. In a letter to Timothy from a dungeon in Rome, Paul wrote, “Do your best to come to me soon…bring the cloak…the books and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:9, 13). He had been deserted by others and lacked certain possessions. Yes, Paul wanted things like clothing, books, and company–but he knew he would be fine without them, for his peace rested in something greater. Like Paul, your contentment can and should ultimately be grounded in your union with Jesus. Refuse any ambition other than belonging to Him and remaining entirely at His disposal. When you know Christ and how wonderful He is—that He is your all in all, more precious than silver, more costly than gold, more beautiful than diamonds and that nothing you have compares to Him—the way you view your circumstances, and the measure of your contentment will be completely transformed.


Written by Nicki Koziarz, a contemporary author and teacher.

God, help me love the life I live right now. Show me the good things I often overlook and help me be content with what I have. Forgive me when I compare myself to others, forgive me for longing for things outside of you and your kingdom. Thank you for loving me right where I am, right as I am. Help me keep my eyes on you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Exile From Fellowship

Written by Celeste Bailey from the Village Church.

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of exile is “the state or a period of voluntary absence from one’s country or home.” Even though this applied to my situation when my family and I escaped the civil war in Lebanon, my true exile was actually an exile from a fellowship with fellow believers. In high school, I was very much involved with The Navigators ministry in Beirut – Bible studies, worship meetings and fellowship.

When we fled to Cairo thinking that we can stay until the war is over, it was difficult finding a community of believers in the short time we were there. After a little over two months, my family and I arrived in New York City. Trying to acclimate to a new culture and the “American” dialect of English took time. I felt discouraged on many occasions and my desire to spend time with the Lord diminished. I missed having the fellowship and encouragement of other believers.  Several months later, my sister and I moved to Ocala, Florida to live with my brother and his family. It was a very difficult time, but I contacted the Navigators ministry in Colorado Springs to find a fellowship close by. They were able to connect me with a wonderful young woman who lived in Ocala. She introduced my sister and I to a Presbyterian Church where she was a member. The church became my family during one of my most challenging times. Through their love, prayers and support, my relationship with the Lord was restored, and I no longer felt ‘exiled’ from the family of faith.

Praying and having fellowship with like-minded people is essential to our Christian growth and stability. The author of book of Hebrews communicated this clearly to the early Jewish believers in Hebrews 10:24-25:“and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”


Today’s prayer is from the Knowing Jesus website.

Lord, help me to be an encouragement to others in the same way that You have sent many little encouragements to me along the way. There have been times of weariness and times of fear and times when I have felt ready to give up, but always at the right time there was a short note or a simple call or a little token of Your love for me, which You sent by means of the many people that You have lovingly placed in my life. Thank You also Lord, that You are our God of encouragement, and that we have Your indwelling Holy Spirit to help and to comfort in times of need. Teach me Your way and Your will and help me to always heed the gentle promptings of the Spirit of Comfort within my heart, so that I may not miss an opportunity to be a minister of Your encouragement to others in times of need. Oh Lord, more and more I long to breathe You into my very being and be saturated with Your love and grace, so that I may be equipped to breathe out Your love and joy and help and support and encouragement to all with whom I come in contact. Show me Lord, how I can best be an encouragement to others, and may life point others to You and never to myself. May I decrease as You increase more and more in my life. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Pandemic and Exile

Written by Allan Anderson, from the Village Church.

When movie producers or stage play consultants believe a sequel to an original play or movie may have commercial success, eventually a sequel becomes a reality.  The original idea remains generally intact but the players (actors) are chosen for their appeal and ability to re-enact the story. Most of us seldom think of “living in exile,” and yet the breadth of this word covers a broad range of identities.  One that recently comes to mind is the effect of the world’s recent COVID virus challenge.  All would agree, it drastically affected lives, habits, economics, and leadership throughout the world.  A retrospective study of the last three years seems to offer similar times, not only today but back to Biblical times in events such as the Exodus or the Exile of the Jews to Babylon.  The study of these two examples could easily be compared to our experiences with the pandemic in our rapidly changing world. Both of these stories required a presence of leadership and learning in order to emerge successfully to a more desired and recognized state of being.  While Moses receives the credit for leadership in their escape from Egypt, the prolonged exile in Babylon offered experiences and new leadership recognition.  An Assyrian king, whose benevolence allowed the Jewish leadership to re-establish the role they were supposed to play as God’s chosen people, arises.

COVID  clearly challenged all of us to both experience and discover new ways to return to normal life.  The illness presented a medical challenge that was clearly new in its identity and demanded a global pursuit to find a way forward. Around the world, all people felt the effects of being exiled from family, friends, education, and work. As a result,  prayers for God’s help came from individuals and faith communities in an unparalleled fashion. In adverse times, it is often difficult to quickly or clearly see our God and any actions that are being taken.  Yet today, as the Pandemic subsides, it is easier to understand that God’s presence and regard for his children helps guide us to the answers that have brought us out of modern exile and towards an increasing  return to a life of faith, commitment, and promise for the future.


Written by Kenneth L. Carder, the author of today’s meditation.

O God, grant us an assurance of your presence amid our time of exile; mend our brokenness; forgive our inequities; restore our hope; and empower us as instruments of your peace. In the name of your Son, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

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