WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN (PART 2)

Passport kingdom of god

Dear Friends,

In my last post, I shared some thoughts about what it means to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, specifically the blessings inherent in it.

For one, when we are born again by faith in Jesus Christ, we gain the undeserved privilege of being called a child of God. We are given His Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to transform us to be more and more like Him. (Romans 8:29).  Our focus as His own now turns from the earthly to the eternal. As we grow in our faith, the goal is to align more and more with God’s purposes and His glory. We strive to do his will, as stated in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”. (Matthew 6:9-13).

Jesus commissioned His disciples, (and all of us), to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20).

So you see, as citizens of the Kingdom of God we are given a holy mission that transcends whatever obligations we have that is earthly. A citizenship by any definition is not only to know the blessings of belonging, but it is also an opportunity to gratefully serve that to which we belong.

So, to continue this series, let’s look at our citizenship in the Kingdom of God in terms of our commissioning. Is there a sense of responsibility I bear as a citizen of the Kingdom of God? What does being a citizen mean from this perspective? I thought of a few:

Responsibilities of a citizen would include:

Allegiance – If I am a citizen of a country, this means I give up all prior allegiance to any other nation or sovereignty. If our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, we align ourselves with God first, above all else. The motivation is gratitude for what we have been given. We are told in Exodus 20:3-5 to cast way any idols that could become bigger than God to us:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Defense – If called upon, I am to defend my country. Even more so,  for someone who professes to be a Christian, am I not called upon to stand up for my faith, to speak up when my God’s name is taken in vain? Sadly to admit, I have fallen short, and I’m convicted of these words:

 But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Here Peter says it in a nutshell…be alert, always ready to stand up for your faith. Our attitude shouldn’t be argumentative and aggressive, but done in love and respect in order to share the hope we have.

Obey the laws – If we obey the laws of the land, how much more should we obey God? Yet, here again is the key: God does not demand compliance out of a sense of duty, but from the heart. We as Christians long to do what is pleasing to Him, not necessarily because He has decreed it, but because He has enabled us to want to (if we willfully submit to Him) by the Holy Spirit.

One final word: As a good citizen of this country, I’m supposed to obey the law and follow the decree of the land, but what if a given law goes against what God has said? What do I do then? If you are a Christian, what would you do?

I don’t think it will be long until we are all personally confronted to give an answer, one way or another.

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN

Passport kingdom of godWe in the U.S (if you haven’t noticed) are in the middle of an election year. In light of the present threats we face, I believe that the outcome will be pivotal to this country. Without getting too political, let’s just say that I believe this election could mean the difference between a steep decline or restoration for our country.

As I think about the times we live in, I have to remember two things that bring me back to faith:

1) God ultimately rules over the offices of the government and our leaders. There is no one who holds a prominent position that has not, or will not be used for His purpose. (Romans 13:1).

2) Although we are citizens of this country, as Christians, we ultimately hold a greater citizenship in the kingdom of God:

Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”.

This encourages me to focus on God’s great and mysterious plan until the day when He will make everything right. It got me thinking about what it means to call ourselves citizens of a given country. Then I looked at God’s word and what it says about our citizenship in heaven. Here’s a little perspective I thought you might enjoy:
Being a citizen means:

1) I have certain rights and privileges within the country to which I belong – Here in the states, it means many things, from voting to getting certain jobs.

Being a part of the kingdom of God means far more. For one, Galatians 4:4-7 tells us that we are given the undeserved privilege of being joint heirs with Christ Himself:

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

2) I have the protection of citizenship – in the case of unrest or emergency, being a (US) citizen can be helpful to obtain assistance. We can seek asylum in U.S. Consulates or call upon the government while abroad.

Being a part of the kingdom of God is to be protected by Him from anything that would sever our inheritance or citizenship. We read in 1 Peter 1:4-5 of this inheritance:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Just like citizenship does not come without certain requirements, notice here that this citizenship, this alliance with God comes to those who are born again, (made spiritually new) because of Christ’s death for us and His resurrection. This not only involves belief, but a covering of sin, obedience to Him, which is the righteousness of Christ. It is trust in Him alone, and living out of that faith as evidence of our salvation.

3) Last, being a citizen means I have a confirmed passage back into my country. For example, as a law-abiding individual, this status is meant to give me the security of knowing that I am recognized back into my home with relative ease.

I remember once many years ago when I was traveling abroad, when our borders were more secure. We had landed in New York, a very busy airport for international flights. I vividly remember airport security waving those of us with US passports right through the gate while a very long line of non-citizens were held back for further screening.

As great as this nation is, I’m pretty sure we will all want heaven’s gates to open to us even more. The word of God tells us clearly what will provide the only passage:

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

May none of us ever know the frightening judgement of separation from God. If you have not done so, I plead with you today, in love and not condemnation, to trust Christ alone for His gift of salvation, while the gate is still open for you.

MOVIE REVIEW: GOD’S NOT DEAD 2

God's not dead 2

 

“I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than stand with the world and be judged by God” – Grace Wesley

God’s Not Dead 2 introduces us to Grace Wesley, (played by Melissa Joan Hart), a high school teacher, who refuses to apologize for her faith, even when the school board takes her to court after what they consider to be be proselytizing.

The incident that started it all was her response to a question from a student, Brooke Thawley, (played by Hayley Orrantia), in regards to how Martin Luther King and Gandhi’s non-violent approach to peace can compare to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Much like God’s Not Dead, (which I reviewed here), this sequel revolves around the theme of standing strong for one’s faith and convictions. This time, instead of the teacher as the antagonist, the teacher is the persecuted. Instead of the class as jury, there is a real jury.

As we hear the arguments from both the plaintiff’s attorney (played by Ray Wise), and Grace’s attorney (Jesse Metcalfe), we are asked to consider one question: Is it faith at trial, or is our heroine?

Takeaways from the movie:

  1. I think it is a timely movie with a timely message. Religious civil rights and freedoms are a big battleground right now. As such, God’s Not Dead 2 has been criticized as catering to a “persecution complex”, and in all honesty, I can see why people would say that. It is true that we as believers in the U.S. suffer very little for our faith compared to those in the Middle East. And yet, I believe that any awareness of the growing intolerance (as evidenced by 50 real life court cases at the end of the movie), is not crying wolf, but simply acknowledging written prophecy. (Matthew 10:22). It’s not as much about any present level of persecution, it’s about the gradual trend that society is taking, and recognizing it from the frame of reference of a Christ follower. Pastor Dave (played by David A.R. White) refers to this awareness when he said “If we sit by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today will mean persecution tomorrow”.

  2. I found the real-life witnesses used for the defense to be quite compelling, especially that of J. Warner Wallace, (Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Biola University) who wrote “Cold Case Christianity”. In this work, he provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the gospel accounts. The approach of the defense was to prove the historic Jesus, logically and factually. Much was left with to audience to ponder, at least for this viewer.

  3. I could relate to the underlying theme of doubting one’s faith. Trisha LaFache is back to play the role of Amy Ryan, a reporter diagnosed with cancer. She is in remission now, but begins to wonder if her faith came about only because she was in crisis. There are two other characters in this film (played by Martin Yip and the aforementioned Hayley Orrantia) who are full of questions about faith. In light of the overriding courtroom drama, a parallel is drawn: Christ once asked the question, “who do you say that I am?”, and we must all answer it, both individually and as a society.

The weaknesses:

  1. I found the classroom conversation that brought the matter under question in the first place to be a bit far-fetched. A teacher gave a factual, historical answer to a student’s honest question. Even the scriptures quoted were done in context of a historical speech, and none of it even remotely sounded like proselytizing. It would have been more interesting to create a circumstance with more gray area, but I think we just need to take this movie as a caricature that was written to make a point; a simple sketch of real-life situations.

  2. At times, there were story lines that were incohesive and could have been developed more, or otherwise seemed to drop off for no reason. In one scene, Pastor David is threatened for not turning in his sermon transcript to city authorities. We never see what happens with that. God’s Not Dead 3 perhaps?

  3. While I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I will say that I found the closing argument to be confusing, in light of the no-nonsense approach of the previous arguments of the defense. It didn’t seem to fit into their decided strategy, and in my opinion unnecessary and probably not likely to be successfully had this been a real courtroom.

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Have you ever been put in a position to defend your faith, even at the cost of your job, friends, or family?

 

 

 

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST: THREE POSSIBLE SCENARIOS

Easter 2Pretend with me that we are a forensic investigators, and we’ve been given the call to respond to a just-happened crime scene. We drop everything and rush to the location. From there, what do we do? If you’ve ever watched crime drama TV shows or real-life documentaries, you know that one of the first things we would do is carefully examine the scene.  We would not just scan the area but carefully inspect how it was arranged. We’d consider the rules of time and space and science. From there, we would use our sense of logic to rule out different scenarios to reasonably, and many times without question come up with a conclusion of what happened. The evidence would speak for itself.

We are bound by this physical world we live in, so much so that there are many who believe that’s all there is. How then, do we explain one of the most hotly debated events of history, the resurrection of Christ?

I was reading about the resurrection the other day and I came upon the first investigation of exactly how His tomb appeared that morning. It is written by the disciple John, an eyewitness and one of the first sleuths on the scene, together with another one of Christ’s disciples, Peter.

John writes of himself, reporting in the third person:  “He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’s head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen”.  (John 20:5-7).

To understand the scene, we need to understand the mode of Jewish burial at the time. As was the custom, the deceased would be wrapped in linen bands and spices. A mixture of aloe, (a powdered wood like fine sawdust), and a gummy myrhh would be inserted between the folds of the linen to preserve the body.

Yet the body was missing. There were only three possibilities of how and why Jesus was no longer there:

1) The body was stolen,

2) Jesus got up on his own, resuscitated, having only swooned not really died), or

3) He rose from the dead.

First of all, it is significant that the burial cloth was there at all. If the body was stolen, the linen cloths that it was wrapped in would have been taken with the body. Not only were they still there, but they were undisturbed. The word that John uses for the word “lying” is “keimena”,* which refers to things that have been carefully placed in order.  John noticed that there had been no disturbance in the tomb. Criminals (or the disciples themselves, as unbelievers would speculate), would not have had any time, to take the body apart from the graveclothes, and certainly not to fold the cloth that had been around his head.

Did Jesus merely wake up from a very bad beating? In that case, he would still be in a physical body and would have left behind evidence of a physical body freeing itself from the strips of linen. If so, they would have been displaced. Even if we can imagine that he got up and put everything back as if to appear that he rose from the grave, the spices used to preserve the body would have scattered and stained the floor.

The disciples saw none of these things. Jesus had risen, and in a resurrected body.

The Bible tells us that we who trust and believe in Him will be as He is:

“Buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Romans 6:5-6)

Our tired bodies that hurt and die will no longer give us grief and pain. Having taken the punishment for our sin, He gave us His righteousness in exchange. Because of that first Easter morning, because Christ has paved the way, we can know that physical death is not the end, and we’ve been given a glimpse of our eternal hope.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

*The Gospel of John: Volume 5- Triumph through Tragedy, John 18-21, James Montgomery Boice, P. 1567

IF YOU NEVER WORRY, DON’T READ THIS EITHER (PART 2)

worry 7For the few of you, (two or three, or so it seems smiley face ) that are never tempted to worry in this day and age, please scroll right along. For all the rest of us, a timely reminder:

Do not be anxious [do not worry] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

We could worry about a thousand things, yet this passage says do not worry about anything.  I can’t think of a thing that wouldn’t fall under the category of anything. Additionally, we are to bring everything to God in prayer. There isn’t a circumstance that is outside of His care for us, nothing that escapes his sight. In fact, God’s word says that He knows our needs before we even ask Him. (Matthew 6:8)

To overcome anxiety, according to this passage, is to come to the Lord in the right understanding of who He is. The passage, as stated by the synonyms “prayer” and “supplication” all indicate a specific, direct petition to God.1 This is shown in a context of humility and not rebellion. It indicates an attitude as one would approach a loving Father, as One who is “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

It also tells us to come to Him with thanksgiving. In “Anxiety Attacked”, John MacArthur points out the example of the prophet Jonah. Even when a great fish swallowed him, he prays:

“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me…while I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee…Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving…” (Jonah 2:2, 2:7, 2:8-9).

I have a long way to go in this area, but what helps me stay in a mindset of thankfulness is to keep a journal of answered prayer through tough times. It helps to show me how much worse a circumstance could have been, and it is a way to record an ongoing testimony that I can draw from in times when I need more faith.

God never promised us that He would eliminate pain from our lives, but He has promised His supernatural peace if we trust Him. Read the next verse in this passage:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

The word “guard” here is the transliteration “Phroureo”, which is a military term, implying the vigilant protection of our hearts and minds as a soldier might protect his own.2

The next time you are tempted to worry, ask God for this peace that is beyond you. Ask Him to protect your heart and mind by the promise of His diligent care.

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Are you struggling with a specific care or worry? Why do you think it is so easy to hang on to? Take those specifics to Him. He already knows our every need.

What are some of the many mercies of God that you can draw upon in grateful prayer?

 

1. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Philippians, 283

2. Ibid, P. 284

 

 

 

 

IF YOU NEVER WORRY, DON’T READ THIS

worry

Dear Friends,

I hope all of you have had a great start to this new year. Praise God in everything, especially if all is well in your world right now. However, if you happen to be in the midst of a difficult time, you may be facing  2016 with  a sense of dread or uncertainty of what this new year holds. If you are, you are not alone. Given my last several months of 2015, I have at times wished time to stand still, so I don’t have to plunge back into the reality of what may lie ahead.

And yet the reality is that life does  go on, whether it happens to be pleasant or not…and while I don’t know what 2016 will bring, I knew I had to write to share an insight that God has been  bringing to my mind over and over:

Take one day at a time.

Simple, and yet so much easier said than done, at least for me.

Jesus addressed the issue with worry in the Sermon on the Mountain in Matthew 6:25-27, and Matthew 6:34, saying:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

He goes on to add: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”(Matthew 6:34)

What does it mean to worry? Well, when we worry, we are essentially saying we don’t trust God, because He already told us not to.  While in this context, Jesus was referring to worry about the daily provision of life (worry about having enough food, clothing, and shelter), which was a common concern in that day. However, I believe we can apply the principle to our trials and concerns today.

Worry is like assuming the responsibility of catching all the snowflakes of tomorrow’s blizzard, and never once stopping to consider that the sun may come out and the blizzard may never even materialize.

I’m reminded to reflect on God’s faithfulness as demonstrated in His word. He Himself sustained the children of Israel with manna from heaven, just enough for that day and that day only, (Exodus 16). He is the same God today, yesterday, and forever. Just like they could look back and see how He sustained them on a day-to-day basis, can’t we as His children also look back and see how much He has already brought us through?

I’m not gonna lie. From the beginning looking forward, 2016 looks daunting to me. Yet it is my prayer for myself and anyone reading this that we can look back at this time next year and notice that God has  brought us through the good times and the bad. May we see that many things we fret about often have a way of working themselves out, that there is more stress in the “what-ifs” of each tomorrow than the tomorrow itself.

In the next few days I want to focus on Philippians 4:6-7, which tells us how to pray in times of trouble. We can go to the Lord with our needs, but also balance it with a thankful attitude. And the outcome?  He will supply us with an unexplainable peace when we do:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

May this next year be a year of unwavering trust in Him, that we may grow in faith and finish strong.

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It’s good to plan and prepare for tomorrow, but where do you think the line is drawn between planning and worry?

Do you tend to over-think and fret? Do you have a testimony to share about how you have overcome this struggle through prayer and God’s word?

To pray specific scriptures concerning worry, check out this list from “Room to Breathe”.

 

 

 

 

FOUR REASONS THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF CHRIST IS SIGNIFICANT

 

Nativity

 

Larry King, host of the former “Larry King Live” talk show, was once asked who in all of history he would most like to interview, if given the chance. King replied, “Jesus Christ.” Why? To ask Him one question: “Are you indeed virgin born?” The answer to that question, added King, “would explain history to me.”

A crucial question indeed, for the implications of the virgin birth as a historical fact would oblige the cynic to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God. You see, it is impossible to believe in Christ as the Son of God and not accept the virgin birth. For God to accept Christ’s death as payment in full, He had to be pure, unaffected by sin. That is what makes the virgin birth so miraculous.

To quote form D. James Kennedy’s book, “Solving Bible Mysteries”, the virgin birth is significant because:

  1.  If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then He would have inherited sin like the rest of us.
  2.  If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then He cannot be the divine Redeemer, because the   sacrifice    for sin must be perfect.
  3.  If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we have no Savior.
  4.  If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we have no hope after death.

The key here is that we can’t take one part of the life of Christ without the other. If we study His life, we see that He lived a perfect and sinless existence. It points back to verify His miraculous birth, (which, by the way, was foretold thousands of years earlier).

And the ultimate affirmation? The resurrection. Also according to Kennedy’s book, “The resurrection is the most firmly attested event of ancient history. Because we know that Jesus was truly raised from the dead, we know that His birth must have been just as miraculous”.

If God can create the universe and perform miracles in healing, in nature, in provision and rise from the dead, it is no problem to believe that He could perform the miracle of the virgin birth. This is a wonderful and great cause to rejoice for those who come to Him with saving faith.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel…” Matthew 1:23

May the wonder of Christ’s birth fill you with joy this Christmas season.