“Strangers and Aliens”
Dr. Larry Jones
In this very room we have among us some American patriarchal patriots. On America’s 200th birthday, July 4, 1976, Art and Faye Palmer, along with Roger and Anita Campbells and 100s of other believers, who were also American patriots), were in Interlaken to attend Interlaken Baptist Assembly. I can only imagine the grandeur of that hour.
The EBC itself had barely been birthed. It was still in its adolescence, but already 100s of Americans had gathered at Interlaken Assembly to equip and train Baptists to do God’s work in Europe, mostly in Germany. Nearly all were American soldiers and their families.
One year in the 1980’s, those of us who went to Interlaken Assembly, purchased these shirts with various flags portray and with these words imprinted on the shirt: “Speak English?” Hundreds of us wore them everywhere we went during the Assembly. We had discovered that Europeans, especially young Europeans, wanted to practice their English-speaking skills. They practiced their English on us and we practiced our witness for Christ on them.
Yes, nearly all of us were American ex-patriots.
Today this organization, which is called the International Baptist Convention, is comprised of almost 70 English-language churches, whose constituents speak over 100 languages and serve in 27 nations around the world.
Who would have ever dreamed of such an outcome? Who would have dreamed that with such humble beginnings God would produce such incredible results?
When I look at you, my dear friends of glorious days in the past, and when we bring in Dr. Jimmy Martin and his beautiful wife, Laurie, to report to us during this Annual Reunion what God is doing in the present in the English-speaking international churches, I am greatly encouraged to dream about what God is going to do in the future.
We are no longer the ex-patriots living on foreign soil. We, the patriots, have become the patriarchs.
I ask you to dream with me this morning by turning to Scripture to examine the lives of the patriarchs who are found in the Hall of Faith in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Hebrews 11:13.
v. 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are (forward) looking (searching) for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 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 (in that country) for them.
Through this passage God has spoken to me as one who desires to live up to the Hallmarks of the Futuristic Forward-Looking Faithful Found in the Hebraic Hall of Faith.
Here’s what I see for us who are now the patriarchs.
We are visionaries. We live by faith like visionaries focusing on the distant future. This is who we are. We are visionaries. “How Then Shall We Live?” asked the great theologian, Francis Schaeffer, in his Christina Manifesto. Let’s live like visionaries who focus on the distant future.
v. 12 “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them. And they welcomed them from a distance.
By naming some of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob …. Joseph, Moses and Gideon … and others both men and women) the Hebrew writer found encouragement for himself and his readers as they envisioned the distant future.
For this reason I find myself naming some of the patriarchs of our churches while I make an attempt to envision the distant future.
Herman Stout and his twin brother, Herbert
John and Elizabeth Merritt
Ray and Helen Reynolds
Harry and Virginia Wood
Stewart and Norma Wine
Glenn and Nina Pinkston
Jim and Wilma Heflin
Jim and Jean Leeper
Rick and Nancy Dill
Rudy and Pam Oswald
Art and Faye Palmer
George and Dorothy Hayner
Jimmy and Laurie Martin
And the list goes on … The list includes you and me.
When I look at you, my dear fellow-patriarchs of glorious days in the past, I am encouraged to live like a visionary whose focus is on the distant future, just like the writer of Hebrews.
The visionary missionary Jim Elliott had a focus on the distant future. In January 1956, Elliott and four (4) other missionaries were murdered by Huaorani Indians in Ecuador. The very people whom they served, killed them. These five (5) martyrs were immortalized in the movie, “The End of the Spear.” Subsequent to Elliott’s death they found his prayer journal in which Elliott logged these words,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep,
to gain that which he cannot lose.”
The history of the church is filled with martyrs like Elliott and his four (4) missionary friends. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a focus on the distant future. While teaching at Union Seminary in New York he found safety from the horrors of war, but God would not allow Bonhoeffer to stay in his safe cocoon in America. Bonhoeffer made the willful decision to return to Germany, knowing full well his fate.
Another futuristic forward-looking martyr is William Tyndale, the great Bible translator. Upon the order of Queen Mary, Tyndale’s life was taken because of his faith. The Queen, also known as Bloody Mary for whom the cocktail is named, was still foaming with bloody anger when she saw Tyndale’s body hanging from the rafters. So she had the body taken down, strapped to a stake and burned in the courtyard until there was nothing left but ashes.
At Bonhoeffer’s hanging, the henchman is quoted as having said, “Never have I seen a man die with such composure, such dignity.” These great men of God would certainly echo the words of Elliott, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”
These men envisioned a future through the lens of eternity. Living life in light of eternity equipped them to give everything they had. Martyrdom is no stranger in today’s world. Every week we find another story.
On January 15th Baptistic-missionary Michael Riddering was killed in Burkino Faso. Michael and his wife, Amy, had devoted their lives to caring for orphans and working with the pastors and churches. While meeting with a Burkinabe pastor in the Cappuccino CoffEEE (Café) in the capital city, al Qaeda terrorists attacked the restaurant and two local hotels. Two dozen people, including the missionary were killed.
Michael Riddering was no fool to give what he could not keep,
to gain that which he could not lose.
Neither are we for we are “Aliens and Strangers on this earth.” “Aliens and strangers’ are metaphoric images produced by the writer of Hebrews. The Hebraic author testifies that authentic believers perceive themselves as those who are simply passing through while on a journey of faith on planet earth.
This is not our home. We are homeless nomads.
Our home is in the far country.
Our destiny is the heavenly city.
Our course is futuristic, not existential.
Our existential existence is determined through the visionary lens of eternity.
This is precisely how I perceive us, who are friends and former members of English-language international churches. Through our service in the churches of the IBC we acknowledge that we have trotted the dotted globe as believers. We have become the spots on the dots of the planet. The spots are connected by the dots like the stars in the universe, knit together in seemingly eternal constellations.
You and I are knit tightly together through our international experiences in the churches. We are the little boy at church camp, who heard the missionary from Africa speak at the campfire service saying, “Look at the stars and see the God of Creation. Your destiny is in His hands. The God who created the universe is calling you to carry out His Great Commission around the world during your brief span of time on earth?”
That little boy and the missionary’s voice still live within me and you. It is the voice of God who calls us still to focus upon the future and Christ’s Great Commission cause. When we hold these reunions and these annual meetings, we are not here to dwell upon the past, as wonderful as it was. We continue to live for the future, which is far better and we must stay the course.
When I examine the Scriptures, as well as the patriotic American patriarchs whose lives encompass my life, I am encouraged to live my life like a transient in a temporal world. To use Hebraic terminology: We are aliens and strangers in this world. This world is not our home. We are transients—nomads, if you please. The 1.2 million immigrants who have found refuge in Germany from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, the Sudan and wherever … are but transients. Are they not? More than they, we are! … aliens and strangers in this world. The word for “strangers” in this passage is ξενος. When combined with the Greek word φοβια, we get the word ξενοφοβια, which literally means “fear of strangers.” By nature people have a fear of strangers. Ξενοφοβια, the fear of strangers, creates the climate for terrorism. ‘The infidels must be destroyed,’ they say. In many places in our own beloved country, we as believers are not welcome. The world does not accept us. Sometimes we feel like foreigners in our own native land. Now is the time to remember: This world is not our home. We look at life today through the lens of eternity.
On May 2, 1987 Mark Merritt, the young son of John and Elizabeth Merritt, was killed in Alaska in an automobile accident. It seemed so tragic. My memories of Mark were in his home with his mom and dad and with his brothers, Mike and Phil. My fond memories of Mark were at Interlaken, Wiesbaden and Stuttgart.. How could God allow such a tragedy to take the life of a young man with such a bright future? How could God allow such a tragedy to occur to such loving, giving, godly folks like John and Elizabeth, Mike and Phil, I wondered. But Mark was just passing through like an alien and a stranger in this world. One’s length of life is not measured by time, but by eternity and the Eternal One. The IBC Endowment Fund was named after Mark Merritt. It started so meagerly. The purpose of the Endowment Fund was to encourage the churches to look to the future to buy land and buildings. The future was the focus. I remember that Linda and I gave $75.00 to the EBC Endowment Fund, which actually began before Mark’s death. I remember that because I chaired the effort. We challenged every family in all the churches to give $75.00. “Together We Build” plaques were given to those who pledged to do this for 3 years or longer. The Endowment Fund wound not be touched until $1,000,000.00 had accumulated. The principle would never be touched. Only the annual earnings from that fund would be used for the churches of today and tomorrow. When I look at the young patriarch, Mark Merritt, I am vividly reminded that all of us are aliens and strangers on this earth. We live not for today, but for tomorrow. We are a futuristic people who are but transients on this planet.
IBCM’s Board of Directors is in the process of creating an Endowment Fund. An IBCM Endowment Fund will enable us who patriarchs to make ongoing contributions for the future of the churches of the IBC. An IBCM Endowment Fund will enable some of us to leave behind a portion of our estates for the IBC and the churches.
Last year at this meeting we heard the testimony of Dr. Lorin Cranford, a retired professor here at Southwestern Seminary and Garner Webb University in North Carolina, who pledged 50% of his estate to the work of the churches. Dr. Cranford is a retired professor from Garner Webb University in North Carolina as well as here at Southwestern Seminary.
“How Then Shall We Live?” asked the theologian. We will live by faith like visionaries focusing on the distant future. We will live by faith like transients in a temporal world. We will live by faith: homesick for the heavenly city, which Jesus is preparing for us. As homeless nomads on this earth we are homesick for the heavenly city.
You’ve heard the story. It still inspires us.
The missionary and his wife had spent their entire adult lives in Africa, separated from the glories of American sports, family births and deaths, graduations and weddings. They missed them all to spend their life’s journey in Africa. The year was 1909. The Great American President, Theodore Roosevelt, was a passionate hunter. He loved the thrill and the skill and the kill of hunting. To Africa he went. With money from the Smithsonian Institute, he traveled with his entourage to British East Africa and the Egyptian Sudan. There they trapped alive or shot dead over 11,000 animals from the smallest of things to the largest, including elephants and hippos and white rhinos during this scientific expedition.
Roosevelt, the Great Hunter, came home a hero. As his ship arrived in New York Harbor, he was welcome home with great fanfare: a parade of bands and soldiers, seemingly without number. 1,000s roared with applause as he and the Mrs. walked down the gangway and off the ship.
The missionaries, who were on that same ship, were likewise coming home. Patiently they waited for Roosevelt and his entourage to de-board. It took most of the day. Finally, the missionaries made their way off the ship. No one was there to welcome them. The missionary couple found a simple hotel room in the older, downcast part of the city. That night, when he and the Mrs. went to bed, he couldn’t sleep. His mind was troubled with the all the fanfare for the Great Hunter. He got up and paced the floor, back and forth. Unable to sleep because of her husband, the Mrs. said to him, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong with you?” The missionary poured out his heart, “It’s not right. It’s just not right. The Hunter goes off to Africa, spends a few weeks and comes home a hero. We go off to Africa, spend a lifetime and there is no heroes’ welcome for us. Nothing. It’s just not right.”
The missionary wife looked into the eyes of husband and with the love she had for him she said, “Honey, I think you had better talk that over with God.” So the missionary made himself a pot of coffee, sat down at the table for his first cup of coffee with God. Soon he filed his complaint. “Oh, God. It’s just not right. Roosevelt goes on a 3-week hunting trip to Africa and comes home a hero. We go to Africa and give our lives for you and there is no one here to welcome us. It’s not right. It’s just not right.”
Suddenly the missionary heard the voice of God. Although it was not audible, it was a clear as could be. God said, “Son, you’re not home yet.”
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep,
to gain that which he cannot lose. ”