Category Archives: biography

Aliens and Strangers in the World

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

Christians are a peculiar people. Not odd or weird but unusual and unconventional. Christians live in a world, adopting most of the cultural norms of the societies in which they live while knowing they are heaven bound and that the world is not their final home. We live in the world but are not of the world. We look like everyone else but do not act according to the immoral, ungodly dictates of the world in which we live.

Peter gives instruction to people who find themselves at odds with the world, sometimes violently at odds, because of their focus on eternity. The world and all that it contains will cease to exist. People will die and leave all that they have gathered to others, who will in turn die, passing on their possessions to yet others. There is no hope in this world except in the present. Christians hope in God who is eternal and who has promised, through Jesus Christ to bring them into His presence for eternity.

Peter has written a letter that is both easy to understand on the surface with sections that are difficult to comprehend. Peter, an eyewitness to Jesus’ words and works, a disciple of Christ and the leader of the twelve apostles, shows his experience in living for Christ and knowledge of deep spiritual matters, in this short epistle.

First Peter is divided into three main sections.  Each section shows one member of the Triune Godhead working in the Christian and in the Church, the Body of Christ.  The theme of First Peter is that Christians are aliens and strangers in the world, and drives the points Peter wants to make in each of the three sections. Throughout each section, Peter give his readers the tools they need to understand the work of God to live as Christians in a sinful and hateful world. (What are these tools? They are the spiritual disciplines found in the Sermon on the Mount.) His main concern is for Christians to view themselves in an eternal light.  For this reason he identifies them as sojourners in the world.  But he uses two different words to describe their position: “aliens” and “strangers.”

As I was growing up as an Air Force brat who lived in Europe for six years, family members of those in the military service were called “good will ambassadors.” I was a US citizen living in a foreign country. I had no idea what an “ambassador” was. I just knew that, according to my dad, I better be on my best behavior. I represented the United States, the Military Base where we were stationed, and my father and family. If I got in trouble then the United States was in trouble, the Base was in trouble and my father was in trouble. My dad was a First Sergeant and he made sure I understood that if he got in trouble I was in big trouble. Being a “good will ambassador” meant nothing to me. I completely understood what it meant to be in trouble with my dad.

People in a country not their own fall into two primary categories. Either they are just visiting for a short time or they have pulled up stakes in their home country and are living permanently in their host country.

Peter uses two Greek words to describe the Christian in the world. The English words used to translate the Greek words are unfortunate. I have come to understand what these two Greek words mean from being forced to live in a country not my own. In the English Standard Version both words are translated exiles. Neither word means exile.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).

Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (exiles) and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).

The first word is better translated, alienor immigrant. The second word is better translated, sojourner or stranger.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are aliensor immigrants (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).

Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your sojourn (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangersto abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).

Understanding these two words is critical to understanding the First Epistle of Peter.

Growing Up Over There

Growing up in a military family in the 60’s meant traveling—almost every year. Not from one city to the next but from one country to a different continent. Dad would come home from work and try to excite us about being transferred. Usually at the end of the school year, but not always. He never had a choice of duty stations except once that I can remember. He asked if we wanted to go to Germany or Taiwan. I couldn’t find either place on a map. We went to Germany.

We would find out we were moving a few months ahead of time. Staying in one place for more than a year happened rarely. By the time I graduated from High School I had attended 13 schools. Summers were never relaxing. I thought everybody grew up like this and was mildly surprised and perplexed to discover, when talking to some of the kids I met along the way, they had lived in one place all their lives. I envied them.

Moving meant a few inconvenient things. One was going through our belongings and chucking anything we really didn’t want. Actually, I wanted to keep everything but could not. Another was shots. Going overseas always meant getting shots. Shot day was dreaded and dreadful. Sometimes we would have to go in multiple days, there were so many shots. So not only did I have to throw away my stuff, they hurt me to boot. Finally, was losing friends. The physical pain of the shots was easy to handle. The emotional pain of losing friends was not. After a few moves I simply stopped making friends. There was no sense to it.

In August of 1967, just before I turned 14, we moved from Belgium to Holland. Our move was less than 80 miles. At least we stayed on the same continent. People spoke a different language and did not dress the same. Even the geography was different. Belgium was filled with woods while Holland was flat and open. The summer before we had moved from California to Belgium, driving across most of the United States to get to an airport to catch a plane that would get us overseas.

Even at a young age I knew distances. From our house in Holland to Prague, Czechoslovakia was about 780 miles. That’s a day’s driving. It is only a couple of hours in the air. It is not far.

We were still unpacking when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1967. Against my will and rebellion at moving, I became, to some extent, politically aware. The US was deeply embedded in the Vietnam war which touched us a half a world away. We were stationed at military bases with ominous acronyms like SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) and AFCENT (Armed Forces Central Europe). The whole reason we were there was to support another acronym, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).  I didn’t know what a cold war was but had seen the effects of a hot war. I did know moving. When Russia invaded Czechoslovakia the entire European continent watched and prepared themselves for a horrible conflict. We made ourselves ready to move quickly, evacuating back to the States. We did not evacuate but stayed in place. I remember the tension and fear.

In Germany we lived at Ramstein, the US Air Force Base and a village of the same name, less than 20 years after World War II. I remember exploring the streets of the village and would see bullet holes notched into the Cathedral. Dad took us to a death camp. I’m not sure which one. I remember staring into ovens used to incinerate the bodies of the people murdered at that camp. Without having been through the trauma of war as a young boy, I knew enough to be afraid. Our next-door neighbors in Holland spent eight years in a Japanese POW camp. They thanked us for being there. Too much for a young, barely teenaged, boy.

Looking back at what happened that summer is substantial evidence, in my mind and heart, that God is in control. I didn’t like what He was doing and would have done things differently. I would not have moved as much. I would not have been exposed to the aftereffects and possibilities of war. I would have kept all my stuff and avoided shots. I would have grown up with friends. There are a lot of things I would never have learned. The value of friends and people. The idea of war. The not holding onto that which has no eternal value. Most of the lessons I’m still learning.

Now for some self advertising.

These stories are works of fiction told in the style of first-person oral histories. Imagine someone telling you the story of their life or of an experience which changed their life.

Read one of the stories here.

I have been interested in oral histories for many years. These stories are my imagination of what might have happened. Most of the people are fictional characters, but the circumstances they live are historically possible. I have thoughtfully tried to imagine words and conversations, carefully placing those statements in the mouths of a people from two millennia ago, in a culture and with a way of thinking discovered through years of research.

Several people in the stories are real. John, the Baptizer, Thomas, the disciple and Jesus, the Christ are real people. There were real shepherds who visited Jesus on the night he was born. Other characters are those we see in the Gospels. They include Pharisees and lepers, slaves and tax-collectors, disciples and the demon-possessed.

Jesus, the Christ, is a real person. I have not put words into His mouth. Everything He says in these stories is recorded in the Gospels.  Putting words in God’s mouth is dangerous and I would even say forbidden. When Eve was speaking to the serpent, she did not quote God exactly and then added her own words to what He had commanded. Doing this made certain her fall.

Read one of the stories here.

My intent in writing these stories is to understand God’s grace and His amazing gift. You may purchase a paperback through here.


A Bit of Biography

I have lived on three continents. Dad was in the Air Force and we moved every 12 to 18 months. We were stationed in three countries in Europe, over a six-year period of time. We lived in Germany, Belgium and Holland with a two-year stint at Mather in Sacramento, California. I studied four languages growing up, including German, Spanish and French, never making it out of the first level of each. Only the English  language seemed to stick. My brother, on the other hand, was a linguist and, by the time he died, was fluent in seven languages, including French and Welsh.

I have a theory about why he could easily pick up a language and I did not. John and I were born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He arrived on the scene 17 months before me. Growing up for a time in Brazil, we had a Brazilian nanny, Lena, who spoke Portuguese, while our parents spoke English. He was a little over two years old when we moved back to the States. I was six months old. At two he was speaking English and Portuguese. We landed in New Orleans and stayed in Texas (pronounced “Tegsuss” if you live in certain parts of the state) for a while. We went from a bilingual household to a household dominated by a Southern accent. My parents still spoke English but all my relatives spoke Southern. John lapped it up. I was confused. Try digesting, at six months old, English and Portuguese and then switching to English with a Southern accent. Babies are sponges, learning how to speak and understand from those around them. I am assuming I was confused, finally settling into the sounds of English.

This is the best, contrived excuse I have thought of for my lack of foreign language skills and it took me years to think up and refine. The real reason, as a second born, was my laziness. Not all second born children are lazy. Children are lazy when it comes to work and highly energetic when it comes to play. Most of the time, I didn’t want to be where we were, surrounded by people speaking a strange language. I grew to hate moving. I hated leaving my friends. Since I didn’t want to be in Germany, Belgium or Holland (or New York, for that matter, which has its own peculiar accent) I certainly wasn’t going to learn the language.

John was fluent in seven languages. I’m barely able to spell in English. He wanted to learn Hottentot and would walk around the house clicking and clucking and speaking in tongues. He taught himself Latin, Hebrew and Greek and thought in those languages. I found him annoying at times. We were brothers and I know he often didn’t like me, either.

The upshot is that my degrees required a certain level of knowledge in some ancient languages, Greek and Hebrew, with a smattering of Aramaic. I know a little Greek and a little Hebrew. One owns a delicatessen and the other a haberdashery. (An old joke stolen from one of my New Testament Professors.) Actually, one is a Librarian and the other is a retired Rocket Scientist. When it comes to languages, I rely on others and on Biblical authorities to help me understand the words and phrases from Scripture. This is where it would be nice if God endowed me with the gift of glossalalia, speaking in tongues, especially in Greek and Hebrew. That’s not how He does things. Learning a language is memory work, a difficult concept for a nominally, academically lazy person. John may have had a gift of speaking other languages but he still had to work at honing his skills.