Monday, November 24, 2014

Dual Citizenship

I have recently become a foreigner. I am a “born and raised Texan” (yes, I’m aware we can be a bit obnoxious about our state), but I now live in Colorado. I will soon need to trade in my Texas driver’s license (today, I think!) and Texas license plates for Colorado versions. I have crossed the border into a new territory, which has made me think about citizenship and how to live where you aren’t really at home.

I have only changed states right now, but if I went to live in a foreign country, I would have much different expectations of the government than when I’m in my own country. I could not expect them to make changes to accommodate my preferences or convictions. For example, I could not go to China and expect them to adopt Capitalism, nor could I go to south France and expect them to ban topless beaches.

Just as I have a form of dual citizenship right now as a born Texan residing in Colorado, I also hold another dual citizenship. I am a resident of America, but like all who follow Jesus, I was born into the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Peter writes that God’s people are “a holy nation,” and he describes us as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:9, 11 NIV). The words he uses here mean “sojourners, literally, settlers having a house in a city without being citizens in respect to the rights of citizenship.”[1] Sounds a bit like an American citizen living in another country…or a citizen of a foreign country living here. (No, this blog is not about immigration policy!)

If this is case, we have a great deal in common with the Israelites while they were in exile in Babylon. What were God’s instructions to them? Were they to fight the government, try to overthrow the king, change the laws, or complain because the Babylonians did not wish to follow the Israelites’ God-given moral code? No. The prophet Jeremiah gave them the following instructions:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer. 29:5-7 NIV)

God instructed them to live honorable, productive lives and to pray for the prosperity of the host country. This translates into our being instructed to pray “God Bless America.” Peter gives similar instructions when he says to “Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God…” (1 Pet 2:12 VOI).

What would this country look like if all followers of Jesus who are living here as “foreigners and exiles” lived productive, exemplary lives that demonstrated the love of Jesus to our unbelieving neighbors, which in turn made them take note and give glory to God? Could the way to truly transform our country of residence be getting our neighbors to transfer their true citizenship to the Kingdom of God, instead of criticizing, attacking, and fighting? Pray for this country, be an example to your neighbors, and remember that we are “citizens of heaven, exiles on earth, waiting eagerly for a Liberator, our Lord Jesus the Anointed, to come and transform these humble, earthly bodies into the form of His glorious body by the same power that brings all things under His control” (Phil 3:20-21 VOI).  

[1] Note on 1 Peter 2:11 in Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible in Logos

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Be Strong and Courageous

We are now in Colorado, away from family, friends, and everything that is familiar. We have a new apartment (never lived in one before) and new weather (never experienced sub-zero temps or this much snow). Chris has a new job and new co-workers, the kids are in new schools, we need to find a new church, and I need to find a new ministry path. There is a whole lot of room for fear here in all that is new and unknown.

This morning, I was praying and reading through Joshua 1 (a very familiar passage that close friends have pointed me to often), but this morning, something new caught my attention. Joshua 1:9 says, “This is my command –be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (NLT). Did you see the first part of that verse? “This is my command” (NLT, VOI), or “Have I not commanded you?” (NIV, ESV).

The instruction to "be strong and courageous" is not just a feel-good word of encouragement or a stereotypical piece of advice offered in difficult times. It is a command, a charge, an order, a decree. It is to “state with force/authority what others must do” (7422 DBL Hebrew). This same verb is used in Genesis 2:16 where God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Obviously, God meant for that to be obeyed! I was then reminded of Jesus' words, “if you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15 NLT). Does this include all His commands –even the one to "be strong and courageous"?

Now look at the the promise in next part of Jesus’ statement. After He says to obey His commands, He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT). This is familiar and reminiscent of the Joshua passage. After the command to be strong and courageous, Joshua 1:9 goes on to say, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9b NLT). And a few verses earlier, God assures Joshua “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh 1:5b NIV). 

The command to "be strong and courageous" should be an easy one to obey, but it is not. It seems that we often have a hard time remembering that God loves us more than we can imagine or comprehend, He wants what is best for us, and He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. If the King and Creator of the universe, the Lord who sacrificed greatly so that we could be with Him, has made us this promise, why do we find it so difficult to obey the command to be strong and courageous and not to live in fear? Let us continually remind each other that Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us, and we have no reason to fear.

Here is my reminder of this: "Immanuel: God is with Us"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Savior's Always There for Me

We have about a week left in Texas, and I had the privilege of spending one of my final two Sundays here leading worship at Southwood Christian Church. One of the songs I felt led to use is one that has become particularly meaningful to me. To be honest, it never really grabbed my attention when it was constantly playing on the radio several years ago, but it has come to mean much more to me during this time of transition.

Aaron Shust's song "My Savior, My God" is a 2007 re-make of an 1875 hymn written by Dorothy Dora Greenwell. This song begins by saying "I am not skilled to understand what God has willed, what God has planned." Let me assure you that I can sing this line from the heart! We are in the midst of so many changes, transitions, frustrations, and uncertainties -- I cannot see what God has willed or planned here.

I know for a fact that there are others who are going through trials and events far more difficult than what we have been walking through. Regardless of the trial, I'm pretty sure that most of us have things in our lives that we just do not understand --things that we can't yet see any purpose in, things that just don't seem to make sense.

Fortunately, Shust's song does not end with the line about our inability to understand. We don't understand ---BUT, to continue the song: "I only know at His right hand stands One who is my Savior...[and] my Savior loves, my Savior lives, my Savior is ALWAYS there for me." What a wonderful assurance! Even when I don't understand, I know Jesus is alive...He loves me...He has saved me...He is right beside me...He is always with me...He is Immanuel. May we keep that assurance in mind at all times, no matter our circumstances and regardless of whether or not we understand those plans or circumstances.

"I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me" (Ps 16:8 NLT).