Saturday, January 27, 2007

Citizenship
Not wanting the grass to grow beneath my feet this time, I have decided to quickly post another post before too long.
Citizenship – the last of the six pillars of character that are taught by the Character Counts Foundation.

Today is Australia Day – and apparently 30,000 became citizens of Australia – or as my friend Kerry said “True Blue Aussies.” The same type of ceremony takes place in many countries where immigrants are accepted as citizens, whether USA or Canada, or the United Kingdom to mention a few. Becoming a citizen of a country other than your birth is not an easy thing. They want to ensure that if you become a citizen, you are the kind of person who would be an asset to their society, and not a liability. They will look at your employment prospects and they would want to ensure that you have no criminal record in any country you have stayed for any significant period. They would want to establish that you are financially able to keep yourself and your dependants without needing to call on the state to bail you out. Reasonable requirements when you think about it.

However there is another citizenship that does not include these criteria, in fact, to gain this citizenship you do not need to fill in a single form, you do not have to show any personal wealth – actually you have to be willing to give up all personal wealth because you can’t take it with you. You do not have to prove qualification or employability prospects at all, but you do need to be willing and available to do the bidding of the Leader. You do not have to produce a police clearance and you can gain citizenship regardless of whether or not you have a police record. However, on application you are required to admit to all wrongdoing (whether you have a record or not) and undertake to stop doing them, and where feasible make restitution. If you have not worked it out already, the citizenship I am speaking about isn’t citizenship of a country, but it is the citizenship of Heaven. (Phil 3:20, Eph 2:19)

The Bible says, speaking of Christians, that we are citizens of Heaven. And just as on earth if you are a citizen of one country you are an alien in others. Yes, there are countries that permit dual citizenship, but a Christian, on becoming a citizen of Heaven by second birth, renounce citizenship of the world by their first birth. 1 Peter 2: 9-12 says

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers of this 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.”

We are a people BELONGING to God. – That speaks of citizenship to me.

- We belong to our country. Some people may object to this, saying that they are free agents, belonging to no-one. They own themselves and nobody can tell them what they can or cannot do. They may object and say belonging implies ownership and slavery was abolished many years ago. “I don’t belong to …” – in fact, they might add, “it’s the other way round – my country belongs to me – I have a share in it, like one has shares in a public company.” Sounds good on paper, doesn’t it? But is it really the case? The fact is, everybody starts out as a slave to sin. We are born in sin and thus we are slaves to sin. If it were not for Jesus Christ dying on the cross, that situation would have persisted and we would have all been doomed to eternal slavery, but Jesus dying on the Cross, bought our Salvation and set us free from the law of sin and death. But having been bought, we belong, now to God, and not our former slave master, the Devil. That is why that verse speaks about being “called out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

- Being aliens and strangers in the world – As I mentioned above, citizenship of Heaven implies being an Alien in the world. Nobody likes to be regarded as an alien or a stranger. They want to be accepted, welcomed, and made to feel “at home”. In the musical “Oliver” they sing the song, “Consider yourself at home, consider yourself, one of the family.” Think of the different ways the term alien is used, and all of them have negative connotations. Aliens from out of space – regarded with suspicion and hostility. Alien Invaders – plants growing in places and causing havoc to the environment. In South Africa, there are plants such as bugweed, that you are required by law to remove and destroy if you it growing in your garden – they don’t belong in South Africa. People who have permanent residence status in a country, but are not citizens, may have the term “Alien” stamped on their identity document. When crime escalates, it is often the “foreign nationals” – read “aliens” who are blamed. Xenophobia – the fear of strangers – is rife in our world today, so who wants to be an alien and a stranger? Thinking again about that song from Oliver! Young Oliver is taken into Fagin’s home – he’s invited join his band of pickpockets and thieves. He has a very different reception to the one he was used to in the orphanage and when he was sold into slavery to the other family (I’m sorry, I’m relating this from memory and so it’s a bit sketchy in parts). He is told what a wonderful life he will have, how much fun he will have. After all he is loved and accepted and …all he has to do… is “pick a pocket or two”! Yes this kind of love came with a price tag. Oliver was still enslaved, only he had a new master! He might have thought he was free, but that was an illusion. Charles Dickens was writing through the novel a comment about lives of children in his day and age, and though His book was fiction, those things really did happen.

- It’s one thing to be an alien in a friendly country, it is entirely a different matter if you happen to be an alien in a country that is at war with the country of your citizenship. Then you are not only an alien, you’re an enemy. Even if you don’t agree with the reason for the war, you are still treated with suspicion and may find yourself imprisoned or even have your life threatened by the people of that country. This was the lot of many Japanese nationals living in the USA after Pearl Harbor happened. Well, as I have stated already, we are Citizens of Heaven, and we are strangers and aliens in the world, and we affectively in enemy territory, in a hostile environment. Our enemy, the devil, wants to imprison us in sin and chain us up with chains of addiction and guilt. We, however as citizens of Heaven, have a higher code to live by, and so Peter implored us to “live such good lives among the pagans, that though you may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds…” They may not admit it, in other words, but they know that you are better than they are, and they will want to be like you. However, don’t expect a friendly reception. More than likely you will find yourselves falsely accused, and persecuted in this land. Don’t become disheartened or discouraged, the Lord is with you, and He will strengthen you and give you the endurance that you need.

Coming back to the theme of citizenship, one of the marks of good citizenship is that you are a “law-abiding” citizen. Even if you are not in the country of your citizenship you are required to abide by the laws of the country you are in. In effect you have to satisfy the requirements of both the country of your citizenship and the country where you reside at any particular moment. So, being strangers in the world, does not give you a licence to be rebellious and break the laws. It has been said, “You don’t break laws, they break you.” – Ultimately I think that is true. No as Strangers in this World we have to satisfy the requirements of the Heavenly laws, which we find in the Holy Bible, and we have live according to the statutes and laws of the countries we live in, in so far as these do not conflict with the Heavenly laws – i.e do not require us to stop worshipping God and praying. Our example in this case may be Daniel, the Prophet who was constrained by law not to pray to anyone other than the Emperor. In this case, Daniel, went right ahead and prayed openly to His God, and not at all to the emperor. He did not do this secretly, but openly prayed to God. What was the result? He was thrown into a den of lions. That may have been the end of the story, except, God closed the mouths of the lions, and Daniel was released from the den unscathed. But in other respects Daniel submitted to the laws of Babylon and Assyria and he rose through the ranks to become an important advisor to the emperor.

Actually, in 2 Corinthians 5:20 we are described as Christ’s ambassadors. Ambassadors are held to a higher standard of ethics than a general citizen, since he represents his country in the country that he is working. Are you Christ’s ambassador in the community that you live? Are the people in your community aware of this? You may not be a pastor, an elder or hold any “office” in a church, but that does not stop you from being an ambassador.

Till next time then, be good ambassadors!

John