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Living As Strangers in a Foreign Land

by Bob Russell

(Gleaned from www.bobrussell.org)

President Barack Obama said not long ago, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

Although America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the President was right. Spiritually, this is a vastly different nation than it was even two decades ago. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed the percentage of Protestants in America had declined to 48%, a drop from 53% just five years ago. Gallup surveys of the beliefs and behaviors of those who consider themselves “born again,” consistently reveal that deeply committed followers of Christ are a small minority in the United States.


The recent election provided additional proof that the influence of evangelical Christians has rapidly diminished in America. Biblical marriage was trampled in six states, recreational marijuana was approved in two, and an openly bisexual woman was elected to Congress, as were three Buddhists, two Muslims, and an atheist.

The percentage of devoted Christians living in America is still higher than in most countries and we should be thankful for our religious freedom. However, followers of Christ have to face reality and admit our nation has changed and there is a sense in which we are becoming aliens in a foreign land.


Last week I read an article by Steve Elliott, founder of a popular internet publication called, ‘Grassfire Nation.’ He pointed to Jeremiah 29 as an example of how God’s people should live in a pagan land. Jeremiah 29:11 is a popular verse which reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

That verse is often quoted to bring comfort and reassurance – and it does that. But Elliott pointed out it needs to be read in context. The Israelite leaders had just been taken into captivity in Babylon. Some were falsely predicting the captivity would be short-lived and they would be returned to their homes in two years.

The prophet Jeremiah informed them that God’s plan was for them to remain in captivity for 70 years. Not two but seventy! God assured them that though this is not what they would have chosen, it was a good plan and eventually they would not be harmed but they would prosper and have hope and a future.

Steve Elliott suggested that the lessons they learned in captivity helped the Jews to survive 2500 years of strong opposition. “It was during the Babylonian captivity that the Israelites moved from a temple/Jerusalem-focused society to a synagogue/community-focused society. Simply put it was the lessons learned during their time in exile that enabled the Jews to survive 2,500 years in exile. But not just survive, to thrive and become the most prosperous, most successful and most innovative people group in the history of civilization.”


In Jeremiah 29:4-13 God gave the deported Jewish people specific instructions on how to conduct themselves while living in a culture that didn’t share their faith. The Lord’s instructions to them have obvious applications for us.

  1. Accept that the exile is long term. “Build houses and settle down…” They were going to be in Babylon for seventy years – get used to it.
  2. Be diligent and work hard. “…build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Their conditions were not ideal but they were to develop their businesses anyway. Few things give God glory among non-believers more than hard, honest work. Daily diligence also demonstrates Godly virtues to our children.
  3. Strengthen your families. “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number; don’t decrease.” None of this silliness about, “I hate to bring children into a world like this.” God’s people should have large families and train each child to know the Lord. That’s what the Israelites did in Egypt – they became so numerous that Pharaoh was threatened by them – and that’s what they were to do while exiled in Babylon.
  4. Don’t be troublemakers; be peacemakers. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Quit grumbling about how bad things are and do your part to seek peace and prosperity for your families and your descendants. Don’t try to undermine the government to make the Babylonians pay for what they did to you. Leave vengeance up to God. That’s His job, not yours.
  5. Pray for the prosperity of Babylon. “Pray to the Lord for it because if it (Babylon) prospers, you too will prosper.” Sure some who mock God will take undo credit for the prosperity but in the long run it will be the God of Israel who reigns and receives the ultimate glory. If the land in which you are living prospers it’s to your advantage
  6. Be a blessing to the land. When Joseph lived in Egypt God blessed Potiphar (his owner) and then the entire land because of his presence. Daniel’s presence in Babylon was a positive influence on the entire area. When God’s favor rests on you, you will be a blessing to your employer, your school district, your local economy and ultimately your nation.
  7. Remain spiritually and morally distinctive. Don’t get sucked into false religions and make compromises with the sinful culture around you. Jeremiah 29:8 reads, “Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.” You will be surrounded with false prophets and false philosophy. Don’t believe the lies. Some of your peers will cave in and compromise with the moral values of the culture because, “Everyone is doing it.” Don’t imitate them. Continue to be a distinctive people.
  8. Turn to the Lord in repentance and total commitment. Don’t blame the Babylonians for conquering you and taking you into exile. Blame your self. You have turned away from God and He used the Babylonians to discipline you and bring you to repentance. When you humble your selves, repent, pray and wholeheartedly seek after God; He will allow you to return to Jerusalem and prosper.
  9. Keep a positive attitude. “This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:10-13).

God’s people have survived worse conditions than this and you can too. Quit moaning about your fate and believe what you say you believe. So, let’s get on with life. We are in the minority but that’s been the norm throughout history. Let’s be positive. Let’s be joyful. Let’s be compassionate. Let’s be productive. Let’s be prayerful. And let’s do our part to enable God to bless America again.

-Bob Russell lives in  Louisville, KY and is the  retired Minister at Southeast Christian Church

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Philippians 4:13