The World in Transition and Change (Exile)
The world is in transition and change in this post-everything world in which we now live. The generations we serve today are different previous generations. If we are to serve them faithfully, then we need to approach mission differently and do mission differently from the way we did it in the past. It is natural to want to hold on to the methods and structures with which we are familiar. If we are to serve both this generation and the world they belong to, then we need to make the transition and discover new and creative ways of doing mission in this generation. We must remember that this is not the first time historically that we, as the people of God, have faced this dilemma. Over and over again in the history of the church, we have faced such situations. What we must realise is that God is not taken by surprise! God has not changed. God is Sovereign, and he is still in control.
Remember the people of God in the Old Testament when they were sent into Exile. The Exile appeared to be a complete and utter disaster: The Temple was destroyed; the people were taken into Exile; God had abandoned them, at least that is what it seemed; and things seemed to be going from bad to worse. In Psalm 137 we read their cry of abandonment, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." When they remembered the good old days, they were in complete and utter despair. Then in verse 4, they go on to say, "How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?" What they were asking is: How can we follow and serve God in this new context in which we now live? How can we worship and praise God when he is so far away? What they had to rediscover was that God was in this and God was with them. It is in the asking of the question that they began to realise that God was still with them, that he had not changed, and he was still in control.
God was, is, and always will be in control of history. God's purposes move forward despite the failure or inadequacy of his people. In the asking of this question, they began to reconnect with what God wanted to do in Babylon and the whole world. The mandate that God gave the Exiles was to seek the welfare (shalom) of the city of their Exile. They were to pray to the Lord on its behalf. They were to pray for the nations.
Through Daniel and his friends, Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world at that time, encountered God and acknowledged him to be the Most High God. In Daniel Chapter 4, we read that:
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: "What have you done?"
Thus Nebuchadnezzar, recognised who God is, and he acknowledged his sovereignty. However, God’s purposes in the Exile went way beyond Nebuchadnezzar. In the Exile, the Jews were scattered throughout the Mediterranean world. Without this Diaspora, it would have been impossible for the apostles to plant the church so widely and so rapidly in the first century. It was also the Diasporal Jews that evolved into a synagogue, which became the first jumping off point for Paul on his missionary journeys. Likewise, it was among the Diasporal Jews that the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, was produced, which became the Bible of the New Testament church.
God is in control. He is not surprised by the changes that are taking place in the world in which we live. We need to reconnect with Him and rediscover what He is doing in the world and among this generation. We need to be prepared to lay aside our mission and realign ourselves with God's mission in and for the world. This means both continuity and discontinuity with the past and the ways we have traditionally done things. Our task I would suggest is to humbly and prayerfully discover what this entails and what the Lord requires of us as the people of God in this new and changing world.