Encouragement in Exile

by Paul Gilbert

The meteorological events of the past week confirmed something about myself that I have always known: I would have been a terrible castaway. Gilligan’s Island seemed so quaint and adventuresome when I watched it on TBS growing up, but not until Hurricane Hermine blew through Tallahassee did the show’s famous lyrics really hit home:

No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury
Like Robinson Crusoe
It's primitive as can be.

To be honest, my immediate concern (other than how to keep the never-ending accumulation of sweat off of my person), was what we were going to do about church. Who would come? Where would we meet? Would there be electricity? What would we do with all of the babies and kids? After all, we were set to launch out on our Daniel sermon series at both the Killearn and Midtown congregations. Schedules to keep, sermons to preach, plans to adhere to!

Instead, God surprised us (me!) with something unexpected. We instead found ourselves together as one church, in one service, at one location, hearing from God’s Word about what it means to walk in faith through difficult seasons. This was one of my favorite worship gatherings we have ever had – the “electricity exiles” all coming together to worship, fellowship, and encourage each other with the promises of God.

Then, it hit me: “God, could you use our experience of physical displacement to give us as a small taste of the Israelite exile we are about to study in Daniel? God, could you use this past Sunday to imprint on our souls that the only way spiritual exiles persevere and endure together is as God’s family?” You see, one of the things that we will discover in the book of Daniel is that exiles need companionship. They need friends. They need the community of God’s people to remind them that earth is not our home and that we are to never grow too comfortable with it. We are sojourners and strangers, merely passing through on the way to our resting place.

I will share again a story that I told a couple of weeks ago as a part of Vision Sunday. When I was in elementary school, I attended a church camp that employed the “buddy system.” When swimming during rec time, you had to have a buddy in close proximity to you to help you in the event of any sort of adolescent swimming distress. The lifeguard would blow his or her whistle, yell, "Buddy Check," and then count quickly to ten. If you couldn’t touch your buddy’s hand before the count was over, off to the side for a time out you would go!

Here’s a question for all of us as exiles: when God blows the whistle of crisis or suffering, is there anyone close enough to you to help? Is there anyone in your life who even knows you are swimming, much less struggling? For Daniel, it was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Who is it for you? At Four Oaks, we call all of our people to be a part of a Community Group, because we were never designed to walk the exilic path alone. One of our greatest desires is to help everyone in our church to connect with one of these communities. Please let us help! You can see a map of our Community Groups here, or you can contact Pastor Scott for help in finding groups to visit.

The Four Oaks family has been busy caring for, feeding, and providing shelter for each other this week, as multi-family slumber parties are now all the rage. Hopefully, electricity is now freely flowing to your abode, but if not, we stand ready to help! Please let us know ASAP if you have any outstanding needs. And thanks, Four Oaks, for being the family of God this week. We need each other in exile.