Category Archives: Citizens of heaven

My fellow countrymen

One of the major things that Jesus did was to redefine how humanity sees itself. When he came, people were largely seen on the basis of their nationality, their place of origin or that of their ancestors. This was doubly true for the Jews for their national identity coincided with their religious identity.

Jesus came and redefined all that:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:16–17)

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

No one has a shortcut to God. There aren’t certain standards for becoming a Christian for Africans or for Buddhists or for French Canadians. We all come to God the same way:

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26–28)

When Christians still see differences and talk of differences, we’re showing that we have far to go in becoming like Christ. When it comes to evangelism, we see all people the same. When it comes to fellowship, we recognize that a Christian in Iran or China is more our brother than is the non-Christian who lives next door to us.

My fellow countrymen are all those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, no matter their race, color, or language.

The church needs to be around foreigners

The church needs to be around foreigners, lest we forget what it’s like.

The church needs to remember what it’s like to be far from home, lest we begin to feel at home.

The church needs to witness what it’s like to leave the place of one’s birth behind, lest we forget that our homeland lies ahead of us, not behind.

The church needs to see the struggle of being different, lest we forget how different we are called to be.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11–12)
“Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:19–20)
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14–16)
“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 that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 for them.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)

The church needs to be around foreigners, lest we forget what it’s like.

Their mind is on earthly things

“Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:19–21)

“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 that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 for them.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

May we citizens of heaven enjoy peace today and every day. May we always be looking forward to the city to come, not backwards to the place we came from.

Whatever the outcome of the elections today, remember that it’s only temporary.

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:24–25)

Citizenship, ethnocentrism, and politics

Wooden ballot boxGot involved in another discussion about citizenship, this time centering around the Pledge of Allegiance. (I’ve written a number of articles about my views on saying the Pledge) That led me to think more about how citizenship and nationalism affect our politics.

At some level, citizenship is a given. Our modern world pretty much obliges us to be a citizen of some country. The spiritual truth is that we are citizens of heaven and foreigners in every nation of this world. Our difficult task is to reconcile the pragmatic realities with the spiritual ones.

Nationalism is feeling loyal and proud of your country. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your people are inherently better than all others. This may be tied to a race or a tribe or a nation. This belief leads us to judge all other countries in terms of our own. It often goes hand and hand with nationalism, though not necessarily so.

How do these things affect our politics? When making political decisions, people typically want what is best for their nation, even if this comes at the expense of other nations. If we as Christians recognize that our nation is the Kingdom of God, we will make one kind of decisions. If we view the United States as our nation, we will make different ones. That’s one reason that I think it’s vital we understand where we are from and where we are going (using the language of John 13:3).

As Christians, we seek the good of all people, not just those of the country we hold citizenship in. We pledge ourselves to actively work for the good of all nations, not just the United States. We place the good of all men above our personal good and above the good of the country we live in.

We should be fervently nationalistic about the Kingdom of God. We should give whole-hearted allegiance to that great nation. We should make it clear that our patriotism is for our true patria, not the place of our birth nor the land where we now live.

And our political decisions should reflect those realities.

Blessed to worship

crossI was fortunate this past Sunday to still be in Orlando at the Equip Conference and to be able to worship with the Spanish-speaking brethren there. Even though it was July 3, worship stayed focused on God and not on country.

I’ve argued that our Latino brothers have much to teach us about what it is to live as aliens in this world. Many non-Latinos understand it as well, but I think living in a culture that remains vibrant because of immigrants helps these brothers grasp what it is to be part of a colony of foreigners.

May we remember that we are foreigners. May we remember that we are ambassadors. Even around patriotic holidays.