Tag Archives: aliens

Here’s how Christians should be strangers and aliens

15 Jun

Photo by Sam Wermut on Unsplash

Hey Christians, you should be different! You should be strangers and aliens, and it should show.  It should be obvious.

A couple days ago I talked about my boys’ mugshots when we were immigrating to Jamaica.  We lived in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, for a year from 2000-2001, and there were so many moments when we felt like strangers and aliens.  I’ll pick one moment in honor of the World Cup starting yesterday.  The USA men’s soccer team was coming to Kingston in 2001 to play a World Cup qualifying match against the Jamaican team.  The guy who served as our money-changer had connections, and invited Michelle and me to join him at the game!  I was so excited, but also nervous.  This is crime-ridden Kingston we’re talking about.  Not to mention that Jamaicans are incredibly passionate about soccer.  Would we face any backlash?

I wondered if I should wear my US National Team jersey and wave an American flag, or maybe that would be a bad idea?  I decided against the jersey and flag, but Michelle and I wore a bit of red, white and blue.  Before we got anywhere close to the stadium, just driving through the city, people everywhere were wearing Jamaican colors, yellow, green and black.  Most of them weren’t even going to the game.  Then when we arrived at the stadium, it was a sea of Jamaican supporters.  In a crowd of about 20,000, we saw 1 or 2 other American supporters.  I really felt like a stranger.  It was obvious.  There was no mistaking who the Americans were.

That’s how Christians should be.  Easily visible.  But not in the way you think.  As Peter shows us in 1st Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12 there are some really surprising ways that Christians should make it known that we are different.

As we have been saying all week, Peter teaches that the first thing we should do is say or believe that, “As a Christian, I am not ultimately a citizen of an earthly country, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom.” Second, we need to leave behind the empty way of life and live according the principles of the country to which we are actually citizens, God’s country, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Peter continues this line of thought in 2:11, “As aliens and strangers in the world, abstain from sinful desires.”

Why? “Live such good lives among the pagans”, Peter adds in 2:12, “that though they accuse you of doing wrong…”  Wait! Stop there.  Doing wrong sounds contradictory to “abstaining from sinful desires.”  What were the Christians doing wrong?  What were the people in their culture accusing the Christians of doing?

One historian describes what was going on when Peter wrote this.  “In the middle of the first century, Christians were a distinct minority and often were the object of slander and subsequent persecution. For example, because of their refusal to participate in emperor worship, they faced false accusations that often resulted in suffering and death. To suppress the rumor that he himself had put the city to the torch, Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. He made Christians scapegoats by slandering and persecuting them.”[1]

When the Roman Emperor said “You must worship me as Lord,” the Christians responded with, “Jesus is Lord.”  And that didn’t go over very well.  Those Christians were citizens of a greater king and a greater kingdom, and that meant they were strangers in Roman Empire.  They were different.

Christians live a different way, and sometimes that way forces us to choose between living the way of God’s Kingdom or living by the way of our earthly society.  If we choose the way of the Kingdom, we can face social and economic difficulties, stemming from shunning, slander, and lack of opportunity which can really affect checkbooks.  Christians should look different!  The way of life in the Kingdom of Jesus is different than the way of life on earth.  We will stand out.

We watched a movie last night where the main character and his boss worked for the CIA and they were trying to get information from a Saudi banker.  So they got him really drunk, left the restaurant and took his keys to go get his car.  The Saudi guy is protesting that he is fine, he can drive.  Clearly, though, he is in no condition to be driving.  Then the CIA boss pulls the main character aside and says, “Let’s put the Saudi in his car, and let him start driving home.  Then we’ll call the police and report a drunk driver.  The police will catch him, he’ll go to jail, we can step in, and he’ll owe us.”  The main character can’t believe it.  His boss is about to put the Saudi guy’s life in danger, as well as anyone else on the road, for as long as it takes the police to track him down.  It is wrong!  So he stands up to his boss.

How about you?  Christians live differently.  We live based on the principles of our true nation, the way of the Kingdom of Jesus.  That could very well mean that we will feel like strangers here.  But that is as it should be.  Because we are strangers here.  We live differently!

Live such good lives among them, Peter says, that they will see your good deeds. This is why Faith Church has been so passionate about being involved in our community.  Whether it is serving meals through the Summer Lunch Club or packing shoeboxes with helpful items for children in need around the world, I am so proud of how Faith Church gives and gives!  I could list ten other ways we as a church are trying to follow the way of the Kingdom of Jesus.

But I want to conclude by focusing individually.  What will it look like for you, Christian, to live as a stranger here in reverent fear?

How are you living in your neighborhood?  In your work?  In the places in the community where you associate with people who are not followers of Jesus.

In school?  On sports teams?  Volunteering?

Are the people around you saying of you “Wow, they are living such good lives!”

And by “good lives” Paul is not talking about the American good life of wealth and entertainment, but allowing the Holy Spirit to so transform you from the inside out that his fruit is flowing out of you.  The Spirit’s gentleness, kindness, love, patience, etc., should be very evident in our lives.

So pray for the people around you. Love them. Serve them sacrificially.

Talk with your neighbors.  Listen to them. Take an interest in them.  Even if they don’t reciprocate!  Look for the outcast and love them.  Make a special effort to include those who are not included, the lonely, the new person, the person from a different ethnicity.

If asked by your friends at school to help them cheat on a test, graciously say “no thank you,” even if it means they might be upset at you or make fun of you.

When part of a group at work or school or in a mom’s group that is shunning someone who is awkward or shy or poor or quiet, don’t go along with the group, but instead strive to include the outcast.

I experienced this recently at my daughter’s elementary school Fun Fair a few weeks ago.  My daughter  ditched me quickly to hang out with friends, except when she wanted money to buy food.  So I hung out with friends from church for a while.  Then when they were talking with some other friends, I went to get french fries.  On the way to the french fry stand, I spotted a bunch of soccer parents.  This would be the equivalent of the adult cool crowd.  They’ve all been friends for a number of years as their daughters have been on the team longer than mine.  And many live in a neighborhood together.  I felt within me those feelings I felt many years ago in high school, wanting to be accepted, to be part of the crowd.

Then I spotted another guy standing all by himself.  Another dad.  I’ve talked with him numerous times because his daughter and mine were in the same class together a few years ago. He is a different ethnicity than me.  Talking with him wouldn’t help me get more in with the in crowd.

As a follower of Jesus, I am stranger here, a citizen of Jesus’ Kingdom.  And we do things differently.  So I went over and spent the next 20 minutes or so having a great conversation with that dad.

We Christians live different.  You might be made fun of.  You might take flak.  Know that you are living by the way of your true home.  You are a stranger here, an alien, and your true home is the Kingdom of Heaven.  People will notice.  By living such good lives among them, people will notice.  You will be laying a foundation of preaching the gospel by doing good, by living good, that you will earn the right to preach the good news of Jesus in words.

[1] Kistemaker, Simon J., and William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. Vol. 16. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

What my sons’ mugshots taught me about citizenship

13 Jun

How about those two cute little mugshots?  They are my two oldest sons in September 2000, when they were 3 and 2 years old.  Our family of four had just moved to Kingston, Jamaica, and we had to apply for immigration status as legal aliens.  That meant we had to get photos taken and use those photos for immigration cards which we carried with us.  Even the boys at 3 and 2 years old had to have legal alien status.

Something curious happened, though, when the photographer took our photos.  What you see above is round 2.  In the first round of photos, he took the photos, developed them, and surprise, they showed nothing by eyeballs and hair.  Two eyeballs on a plain background with no body!  What?  The photographer had not adjusted the camera settings to account for our light skin tone!  That was one of the first times we felt a tinge of what strangers and aliens feel.  After a good laugh and a few setting changes to the camera, the photographer retook the photos and all was well.

We often felt like strangers in Kingston, and we were official aliens in Jamaica.

All week long we’ve been talking about strangers and aliens.  (You can review the previous posts here and here.)  That might sound odd, depending on how you are thinking about the word “aliens.”  Creatures from outer space?  No.  Peter is using the word “aliens” like we do when we use the phrase, “illegal aliens.”  In our society, an alien is a person from one country that is trying to set up a new life in another country, just like we did in Jamaica.

So why would Peter use that concept to describe Christians?  In our study of 1st Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12, Peter tells the Christians in the Roman Empire around 65 AD that they are aliens and strangers in the world.

It’s like the words of the old spiritual: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  All Christians, Peter says, are living in a foreign land.  We have another true home country.  We are from another place.

But what other country is he talking about? First of all, many of the Christians Peter was writing to were actual strangers and aliens.  Some had fled for their lives, leaving their home country, and became refugees in another country, in order to escape persecution.  They could easily have felt like strangers in their new country.  Second, as Christians, followers of Jesus were a unique, tiny minority in the Roman Empire.  Christianity was relatively new, only about 30 years old, and very few people understood it or accepted it.  So Christians were perceived as strange in regard to their beliefs.  In both areas the physical and the spiritual realms, those Christians were strangers and aliens.

Likewise, though we Christians today might not be strangers and aliens in our earthly country of citizenship, we are strangers and aliens in a very real spiritual sense.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We believe that, we claim it, but if we are honest it can be very hard for many of us to grasp how our citizenship in God’s Kingdom should impact our lives.

Why?  Because we get so entranced by what we see, touch, and feel.  It is super easy to get focused on what affects us.  It is all too easy to think, “I am an American.”  We were born here, we live here, we are comfortable here.  It is all we know.  Alien?  Stranger?  It sure doesn’t feel like it.  It is hard to see ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of God, because it is invisible.  It is much easier to identify as an American.  So what Peter has to say is difficult and radical: you’re actually an alien, from another place.   That American birth certificate, passport, voting card, social security number, ID card, and driver’s license?  None of it depicts your true identity, or your true home.

Remember that concept of new birth in Christ, being born again, that Peter talked about in verse 3?  When you choose to believe and follow Jesus, you are born again into his country.

I didn’t choose to be a citizen of the USA.  I was born here, in Virginia.  My birth certificate proves I am a citizen of the USA.  When I travel abroad, I carry my US passport, and when I return to an airport in the USA, at the immigration checkpoint the officer glances at my passport and says, “Welcome home!”

What I need to dwell on more is that I did choose to be a citizen on the Kingdom of Heaven, through new birth.  Christians, disciples of Jesus, have been born into a new place, and thus we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that citizenship is the true one.

How do citizens of an earthly country see themselves also as citizens of the Kingdom of God?  Can we hold dual citizenship?

What Peter is saying is that we Christians do have a dual citizenship.  But our citizenship in an earthly nation is temporary.  That whole nation is temporary.

Tom Hanks’ movie, The Terminal, illustrates this well.  Hanks plays a man who is from a small country.  The man is traveling outside his country, and on the way home, while in a foreign airport, he is shocked to learn about a revolution in his country.  In a very short time, that country is dissolved and a new one forms.  The airline will not let him back without proper identification.  What country did he belong to?

Some of us might have a change of citizenship like that while we are on this earth.  And for all of us, no matter if they drape an American flag on our casket, when we die, our citizenship in the USA is over.

Citizenship in heaven, however, is forever.

So Peter is saying that we Christians must choose to live now during our earthly lives, by the principles of the Kingdom of God, which is forever. How do we do that?  Check in tomorrow and we’ll begin to look at what Peter says Christians should do to live as strangers and aliens in the world.

The one thing you need (to make it as a stranger in the world)

12 Jun

In a world of partiality and discrimination and bias, where is the one place that still considers everyone impartially?

The church?  Nope.  Martin Luther King Jr. said years ago that Sunday morning is one of the most racially segregated places in America, and it is still true today.

I read an article this week that posed the question I started with. The one place in our society that still considers everyone impartially is the field of medicine.  The author, Atul Gawande, tells a story about how he had to treat a scary prisoner who was making threatening comments.  How would you feel if you were supposed to treat that patient? You’d have to be impartial.

Today as we continue our study in 1st Peter, Peter mentions the concept of partiality as foundational to the concept I mentioned yesterday, strangers.

I mentioned how off-kilter we can feel when we are placed in the position of being a stranger.  Today Peter addresses his readers as “strangers”, and he connects strangerhood with partiality.

Read 1 Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12.  (Then glance back at 1 Peter 1:1-2 where Peter started his letter by calling his readers “strangers in the world.”)  Did you see how Peter repeats this description of his audience?  In 1:17, he calls them “strangers”, and 2:11 he calls them “aliens and strangers”.  The Christians Peter was writing to were more than likely refugees in their lands.  Some of them had to flee to new areas to avoid religious persecution.  Some of them were ethnically different from the people around them.  But Peter has another deeper reason for calling them strangers and aliens.  He seems to hint that their status as aliens and strangers is as it should be.  Why?  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Before he delves in the importance of them living as strangers and aliens, Peter reminds them that God is impartial. He says “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  Why does he bring God’s impartiality into this discussion?

The author of the article I mentioned above wasn’t saying that all doctors and nurses and hospitals are perfectly impartial, but he was saying that impartiality should be their goal.  I thought it was also an argument that should be made for Christians and the church.  Why? Because Peter is right, our God is impartial! He treats everyone the same.  We are all equally loved and valued in his eyes.  We love to apply that thought to ourselves.  God loves me!  But when we start to apply God’s impartiality to the whole world, it can be hard to take.

ISIS people who chop the heads off captives?  Equally loved by God.

Registered sex offenders who live in our neighborhoods?  Equally loved by God.

Muslims celebrating Ramadan?  Equally loved by God.

The super annoying neighbor or family member or co-worker or Facebook-poster?  Equally loved by God.

Republicans and Democrats?  Equally loved by God.

Illegal aliens from Mexico who want to jump over a border wall?  Loved by God.

You are all loved by God.  The people you hate are loved by God.  The people who have hurt you are deeply loved by God.

And when you have that kind of love going for you, you can live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  Our ability to live as strangers is rooted in the impartial love of God.  God is for us.  If we feel alone at a new job, if we are having a hard time making friends at a new school, if our neighbors are not speaking to us, and if we have a broken relationship in our family, all of these things can make us feel like strangers in the world.  But in the midst of any situation that leaves us feeling like strangers or aliens, we can always know that our impartial God loves us.  Other people may judge unfairly and make us feel like strangers, but God will always love us impartially.

The impartial love of God is foundational for living our lives as strangers here in reverent fear!  Do you need to be reminded of how much God loves you?  Do you need to spend time alone with God, just soaking up the passages of Scripture that affirm God’s love?  Do you need to reflect on the amazing self-giving love of Jesus, of his birth, life, death and resurrection?

One of my favorite reminders of God’s love is Romans 8:31-39.  Maybe read this a couple times, and let the truth of God’s love for you sink deep into your heart and mind:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Check back in tomorrow as we hear what Peter says about how to live as strangers in the world!