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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Citizenship

There have been lots of comments rolling in from the Religion is a Crutch for the Weak post. As with all posts, some people agree; others disagree. Conversation and wrestling with difficult issues seem healthy to me, so I invite you to join the conversation if you have not already. 
In light of the thoughts that have been expressed and a number of questions that I have been asked, I thought I might lay a few more of my cards on the table.
In the post blog thought section of Religion is a Crutch for the Weak I mentioned that as followers of Jesus, we must ask ourselves:


       Do we allow Jesus to determine what it looks like for us to         
       follow him or do we inform Jesus what it looks like for us to 
       follow him?
When it comes to following Jesus, I think it’s important to remember that Jesus does not and will not force us into any type of life. However, he does invite us into a certain type of life. A kingdom life. He invites us to become people who are ruled by a different king, who live under a different rule, who experience life under a  different system than the one that runs this world.
In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter says, “I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lust.”
In Ephesians 2:19, Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers or aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the Saints and are of God’s household.”
In Philippians 3:20, Paul says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly await for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If what Peter and Paul are saying is true, this means that those who follow Jesus are citizens first and foremost of the Kingdom of God. Our citizenship lies here. Our lives, our views, our actions are all, above anything else, to be of the kingdom. For this is where true life is experienced at the richest, deepest level. If it is true that our citizenship is in God’s kingdom, then this also means that our earthly citizenship is no longer our primary citizenship nor is it where our allegiance lies. 


Many take these passages to mean that we are no longer ‘residents’ of this planet and we are just passing through trying to get to some kind of ‘heaven’. This, however, is a poor interpretation of Peter and Paul. For we have been created to dwell on this planet and this planet will be our home - even in the future age when God creates the new heavens and new earth - here - on this planet! So then, when Peter/Paul talk about being aliens/strangers in this world, they are talking about being aliens/strangers to the system by which this world operates and instead we are invited to live life according to the system by which God’s kingdom operates. In order to understand this more fully, the following chart might help. The following kingdoms are characterized by the following:
                   Kingdom of the World Kingdom of God
                             Hate  Love
                             Envy  Contentment
                             Violence  Peace
                             Oppression  Submission
                             Evil                                      Good
                             Selfishness                            Selflessness


As we begin to more deeply understand that these kingdoms stand in complete contrast to one another, we will begin to more fully grasp that we are invited to live lives that do not operate according to this worldly system. 
So, how might this understanding translate towards our thoughts on the killing of Osama bin Laden? According to Romans 13, it seems that God has placed governments in place to maintain peace. To execute justice. To protect citizens. We must remember that earthly governments might be put in place by God, but this does not make them Godly. Earthly governments, no matter how good they might be, are still worldly systems that do not operate according to Kingdom of God principles. That being said, every single government on earth is a kingdom of the world system and since this is true, there is no kingdom of the world system that I would rather live under than that of the United States of America. The U.S. government did exactly what any good worldly government system would and should do. They found the evildoer and executed justice. I am grateful that the U.S. government was relentless in their pursuit of this terrorist and did what it felt it needed to do to protect others in the world from evil.
But just as Romans 13 speaks of worldly governments, so Romans 12 speaks to the people of God - those who live under the rule of a different system, a different kingdom. Those whose citizenship resides in God’s kingdom. In Romans 12, Paul explains that those who are no longer citizens of the world’s system are now free to live according to God’s ways. And the way of God is that we would abhor evil and pursue goodness. Be devoted to love. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Never take revenge. Feed our enemies and bless them.
Even though we understand that the government which we live under is working within what seems to be their God ordained right and we may be grateful that our government has worked to protect us, the question for us as followers of Jesus is still:
How do we respond in our hearts, words and actions to this news? 
Do you take comfort in knowing that there is one less mind out there today, plotting evil and destruction and death towards thousands of people? Most of us would probably answer, ‘yes.’ Do you feel peace because you live (if you live in the U.S.) in a country that will protect you? Perhaps, yes. Do you feel grateful that there are men and women who are willing to risk their lives to protect you? Perhaps, yes. It is my opinion and understanding that these feelings are probably okay and are in line with Romans 13.
The authority in place acted as good worldly authorities should. That is how systems of this world are set up to work until Jesus comes back. I believe that we can all be grateful to God that he does not leave us on this planet that is full of evil without placing systems in place to bring correction and to combat that evil.
That being said, for those who follow Jesus, we must remember and be formed by the fact that there is also another system that is already in effect. It is the system which followers of Jesus live by and within. This system is characterized by love, beauty, forgiveness, hope, awe, mercy, grace, kindness, graciousness, peace, hope and more.
So, as a citizen of this kingdom, the kingdom that we are actually invited into to experience life:
       How do you feel that a human life was snuffed out? Do you    
       feel God’s pain? 
       Do you feel the heart and grief of Jesus that a man who He 
       created in his image chose to walk a path that did not glorify or 
       reflect God’s beauty and glory on earth?
       Do you grieve over the fact that violence only perpetuates 
       violence and the cycle goes on and on and on?
       Do you grieve that this man whom God loves with all of his 
       life, might now never know the amazing gift it is to walk with 
       God and to share life with him?
       Is there a part of you that hopes this evil, violent murderer 
       found his way to the Creator of Love before it was too late?
If we cannot answer these questions with a ‘yes’, (and I believe that very few of us, myself included, can) then perhaps we could agree that religion is a crutch for those who are too weak to experience this kingdom life on their own. Perhaps we could make our way to Jesus and ask him to empower us to experience life more fully, as he intended, lives that are identified by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, beauty, awe, generosity, graciousness, grace, mercy, hope and more. Lives that understand that no one, not even our super awesome selves, is worthy of redemption, yet Jesus crushed death in order that all might experience this beautiful hope.
Finally, I did not personally lose a loved one in 9/11. If there ever comes a day when I am faced with this type of horror and terror on a more personal level, I pray for the grace of Jesus to empower me to actually desire to follow him through it. If you are one who has personally been affected by this type of horror or terror in your life and you are desperately trying to figure out this kingdom life, I do not know nor do I pretend to know what it is like to be in your shoes. I am deeply sorry. And I promise to pray that as you wrestle through what must be the darkest of days, that you would have glimpses of hope and light in your heart and that Jesus would somehow be real for you in this time.
Grace and peace.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and join in the conversation. Agree. Disagree. Just be respectful of one another.

4 comments:

Angie said...

Deep thoughts by Brian Jeansonne. :) Loved it. Reminded me of that class in the 4th quarter of SKL I think. Those questions at the end were tough, but I think I could honestly answer yes to a few. That makes me hopeful.

Chad Estes said...

I like the way you are living out this tension between the two Kingdoms, Brian.

Pi Man said...

Thank you, Brian, for a well thought out and explained position. I thought it was excellent, and appreciate your heart felt sincerity to explain and not intentionally offend. Mission accomplished my friend. I especially liked the 5 questions you posed near the end. Indeed, this issue is worthy of the wrestling in our hearts, minds, and souls that it provokes. May we all take it to heart and have God's grace as we seek to live out His kingdom here on earth. Peace to you, TA.

fuel52 said...

The Usama Bin Laden killing still has me struggling. Part of me feels like this was justice and he deserved what he got but then again, we all deserve a bullet in the head, from a sin perspective. UBL, as tough as it is to say it, is no more guilty or sinful than any one of us in the eyes of God.

On the other hand, thinking hypothetically, would UBL have made a good follower of Jesus?? As passionate and devoted to what he believed in, albeit in the wrong direction, would he have been a great follower of Jesus' if he touched his heart and UBL began following Jesus? Could UBL not be looked at as Paul before his conversion to Christ? Saul was as contemptuous of Christians as UBL was. We'll never know.

And of course you could say, and I'd probably agree, he'd never convert or repent but his opportunities to do so were ended last Sunday.

Not an easy issue, to say the least.