To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 1 Peter 1:1
I am a stranger on earth … Psalm 119:19
In the summer of 1971, I was in the United Kingdom as part of a study abroad program from my university. It was the first time I had been out of the U.S. and on the 4th of July, young and stupid, some of us went out into the parking lot where we were staying and sang the Star Spangled Banner as loud as we could. We got a silent, but polite, reception to that.
As the summer went on, the very emotional anti-war, anti-American protests going on in the United States and elsewhere reverberated in London. As part of a group of American students, I remember feeling very weird. It is a very uneasy, precarious feeling to be in a foreign country, where you have no rights as a citizen, and where, suddenly, you are the evil villain. The hostility was palpable, at least in my fearful mind. Some of us, including me, went around speaking with a British accent and trying to be blend in.
Whenever I read the above verses about being a stranger, I think of that summer. God has a heart for the uncomfortable stranger. In Exodus 23:9 he commands:
Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
Yes, I know what it feels like, just a little bit, to be a foreigner in a hostile place, far from my country. All I wanted was to get on the airplane and go home. Turns out, so did a lot of other people. President Nixon devalued the dollar that summer while we were away, making our money worth a whole lot less. Luckily, we had our return tickets already purchased and we them carried everywhere we went, along with our passports, for safekeeping. They were our most precious things – who we were and where we were going.
Unfortunately, a lot of, especially young, Americans had not purchased return tickets. They had come to Europe to wander around and “find themselves,” with no set destination, staying at hostels, and soaking up the cultures until the money ran out. These people packed the airports, sleeping and sitting on the floor, trying to get stand-by tickets back home. Some of them had guitars and many gathered around, cross-legged on the floor, and sang folk and protest songs.
All of this sudden demand caused flight delays and overcrowding. We ended up getting to Kennedy airport very late and having to stay the night in the terminal. I found an all-night diner and sat there for a long time, drinking real American coffee and just listening, gratefully, to the wonderful New York accents. By the time we landed in Detroit, I felt like getting on my knees and kissing ground.
Please understand, the UK was beautiful and the people were generous and gracious to me. I loved my visit. But it wasn’t home. There is something about home that is deep in our hearts. The place we belong. The place where we are known. The place we are looked for, and welcomed, and loved, no matter how weird – or stupid – we are. This trip taught me the value of home and the wisdom of having your return ticket in your pocket.
This world is a hostile place. Jesus came to bring us home, to our real home. I don’t want to trivialize in any way the deep love and sacrifice of his blood shed for us on the cross that we might live forever with him, but what he did was like giving us our return ticket. Make sure you have one.
If you don’t know if you have your ticket Salvation
For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:14 (NLT)
Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6