I am a stranger in this world

When Aliens Disagree

“Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. Conduct yourselves honorably. … For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people. …Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” 1 Peter 2:11, 15, 17 HCS

Love the brotherhood.  That phrase leaped out of this verse. I am a temporary resident on Earth, and God expects me to act like a citizen of heaven. That means loving the other citizens.

But what happens when the citizens disagree?  We are bound to, after all, with all our diverse personalities and gifts and perspectives.  Even in our disagreement, we are still to honor each other.  Love each other. For my own sake, I’d like to chew on this a while.

Love the brotherhood.  According to I Corinthians 13 …

Love is patient.  We should be patient with each other.  We should listen before we speak, patiently waiting to understand the other’s point of view before we try to express our own.  That’s hard for me to do when the person speaking to me is angry, harder still when I am angry myself.  But it’s love.

Love is kind. We should make sure all our words are spoken with kindness, with the intent of restoring and edifying our listeners, not tearing them down.

Love does not envy. We should make sure that – even in the deepest parts of our hearts where we don’t even like to look ourselves – we are not coveting anything that belongs to someone else. 

Love is not boastful. We should never, ever gloat that we get our way, or that things go well for us and not for those who disagree with us. Ever.

Does not act improperly. This one is harder to define, easier to feel.  When my kids try to squirm out of their wrongdoing with plausible excuses, my husband often says, “You should do what you know is right.”  Really, deep down, we know.  We should do it.

Is not selfish. Put the other person first.  Even if the other person has a vastly different opinion than our own.

Is not provoked.  Yeah, this is a hard one.  What if the other person is letting me have it?  Or saying unkind things about someone I admire?  If I am going to truly love, I can’t allow that to get under my skin.  I have to put the other person first, muster the fruit of self-control, and choose not to be provoked.

Does not keep a record of wrongs.  I think this is my favorite quality of love.  If anyone kept a record of my wrongs, wow, that would be a mighty long piece of paper.  Jesus doesn’t.  He tore up that record when he died on the cross for my sins.  And so, I must not even start the list for one of my brothers or sisters.  This means never, ever holding a grudge.

Finds no joy in unrighteousness. That means if someone suffers for their poor choices, we should mourn with them, not secretly think “Well, you deserved it.”  Because what do I deserve?  Death in hell.  Only by God’s grace am I not getting it.

But rejoices in the truth. The truth, not rumors.  When we hear something disparaging about another person, we should assume it is erroneous until we’ve spoken directly with the person involved. And we shouldn’t accuse when we ask. We should just listen. Listen to both sides in a conflict. Rejoice when we find the truth, even when the truth hurts.

Bears all things.  Love takes the punches, even the underserved punches, and keeps on loving.

Believes all things.  Love believes in the possibility of a fresh start.

Hopes all things.  Love daydreams about better days.

Endures all things.  Rumors. Slander. Misunderstandings. Love endures it all.

Love never fails.

“I urge you as aliens and temporary residents to …. love the brotherhood.”

I am a stranger in this world

Applause?

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” Matthew 10:22, NASB

“If you are a follower of Jesus and maintain a consistent, Christlike walk and behavior, you must expect to experience persecution and rejection also. Your Christian testimony will be scrutinized and criticized. People will treat it as they treated the Savior—they will despise it” ~CH Spurgeon

Is that a disturbing statement? Somehow, in our Americanized theology, we brush such claims off. Maybe happens to some, we claim, but it’s not the rule.

I came across this quote shortly after a bullying incident at our local school. It was unrelated to church, but it got us talking. In our home. In our Jr. High Sunday school. For us, this was a timely read. We need to wake up so that we can stand. I’ve worked with quite a few youth over the past decade and so often we run into the happy clause. “God wants me to be happy.”

They haven’t read the book of Job yet.

They don’t know what a martyr is.

They haven’t really studied the life of Christ.

Matthew 10:16-24 blatantly warns us. If we’re seeking the applause of men, we’re in the wrong religion. Jesus was despised and rejected. Can a servant be above his master?

Teaching Jr. High kids this was a downer. They didn’t leave feeling happy to be in church Sunday morning. But they got it. Why did Jesus warn His disciples? Because they needed to get it. Perseverance doesn’t come from false hope. It comes from real faith. Faith that is tested, refined by fire. Pure. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

If we are to be set apart for Christ, we will not blend in. Standing out won’t always be comfortable.

Spurgeon goes on to say, “If they did not prize the polished gem, do you think that they will esteem the rough cut jewel?”

Not a chance.

Jesus asked us to count the cost. Then take up the cross. Will it be worth it? If I seek heaven and not the approval of men, will it be worth it?

Rejected by men, loved by God. (1 John 3:1-2)

I’ll take it.

I am a stranger in this world

Strangers Look Weird

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed, if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” Hebrews 11:13-16 NAS

“Look! It’s a white person!”

I heard it often as I did my shopping in West African markets, sidestepping puddles, bargaining for fabric and shooing flies off the tomatoes I wanted to buy. The cry never failed to bring a crowd. You’d think only kids would do this, but I drew my share of gawking adults, too. “Wow, look … a real, live white person!” the crowd buzzed. Mostly, I ignored it, because it became the norm for me. Sometimes, when I was feeling sassy, I’d let my eyes get as wide as theirs, look over my shoulder and say in their language, “Really? Where? I don’t see her.”

And then, when my husband and I would travel deep into the bush, we’d encounter villagers who had never in their lives seen a Caucasian. Quite frankly, they didn’t know what we were. Little children have burst into tears at the mere sight of me. More than one woman has dropped her basket and run in terror.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind: I was a stranger in West Africa. My accent was thick, my hair unruly. I couldn’t perform the simplest of feminine chores: winnow rice, chop firewood, pound millet.

And often, when the heat and frustration would roll over me, I’d long to return to the States. That was when God would whisper to my heart, “America is not your home. Heaven is.” Indeed. I was in Africa as a stranger, as an exile, but not of the United States. I was a displaced heavenly citizen. I had a home town alright. It was the city God is preparing for me.

Well, I’m back now. Typing in Texas, I am. And you know what? God was right. America is not my home. I am a stranger and exile here, too. My home is heaven. Oh, people don’t stop and stare at me anymore, but I’m weird just the same. I don’t follow U.S. patterns of thinking on a whole host of issues. And I am still called to make sacrificial choices, choices that advance God’s kingdom instead of my own. It’s just that it is harder to do it here, with materialism whispering in my ears and society telling me I’m wrong.

I’m not at home in the U.S.A. I wasn’t at home in Africa. The place I feel the most “fit”? Anywhere other Christians are gathered, worshipping our savior, serving him together. When I get together with other exiles and we can talk about home, yearn for home together, and work to show others the way to our home – well, that’s puts my homesickness at bay. That’s when I’m acting on who I really am …

A citizen of heaven, not of any country on Earth.

I am a stranger in this world

Shaped by the Journey

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in God, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” ~Psalm 84:5 NKJV

I’m not much of a traveler. I get sick in the air and am impatient on the ground. I am a coward in things unfamiliar and a control freak in the things around me. I like an adventure, but only if it be comfortable, so this idea of a heart set on pilgrimage is terrifying to me.

But a journey is required. If I am to be conformed daily to the image of Christ, I don’t have a choice but to go. And what about that journey?  Will it be comfortable? Will it be a smooth, paved road? When I come to the mountain of challenge, will the road be steep and bumpy? When I descend into the valley of trial and discouragement, with the drop cause terror to claw against my heart?

Can I pick the route?

Probably not. Amend that—no. I can’t. Submitting to my LORD, I relinquished all presumption of that ‘right.’ But even in knowing that God is good, and His plan is good, and He wants to shape me into the image of Christ, which is good, I know that trials wait ahead. How do I know?

Because I’ve seen my father-in-law carve a stump with a chainsaw. I’ve asked him how he does it and he replied “I keep cutting until the bear comes out.”

I need more cutting, because I don’t look like Jesus yet. And from every indication of the saints that have gone before me, God has a tendency to use the blade of pilgrimage to clear away the things that don’t belong on His image-bearers.

I recently heard the following prayer by Betty Stam. “Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt, work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.”

Trembling, I’m stuttering the words for my own heart. Though I know how Betty’s life ended, I am also quite sure that I want to be like her. Because she looked like Jesus.

I am a stranger in this world

I Am a Stranger in this World

I am a citizen of heaven, an ambassador to Earth

Now everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”  2 Cor. 5:18-20 HCS

From Susan

I lived in a traffic-strangled capital city in West Africa.  The dust and heat rolled off the streets, through my windows and into my living room.  Nothing was pretty there – not my house, nor anyone else’s.

One day, my kids were invited to a playdate by a woman whose husband was the second-in-command at the U.S. Embassy. I walked through her gates and into paradise.  Her swimming pool was sparkling blue, her grass lush green. Tasteful furniture adorned rooms that could accommodate a crowd of hundreds.  As my toddler gleefully dove into her treasure box of toys, I just sat and stared.  I had been years outside the States, and I had forgotten what luxury looked like.

“You have a beautiful home,” I managed.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile.  “It’s yours.  It belongs to the American people.”

Her gracious answer stunned me for a moment, until I considered who she was.  Her whole reason for being in that country was to represent the United States of America.  She didn’t consider her home her own.  It was owned by the Embassy, a tool to do her job. Her entire life was about ambassadorship.

And so shouldn’t ours be?  We are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth. Our reason for being here is to represent His kingdom to this foreign land, Earth.

What does that mean in practical terms?

From Jen

In practical terms, it means that my view on life needs shifted into a fresh light.

I remember having a talk with a couple of junior high girls several years ago. Bright, pretty girls chalked full of potential—leadership, popularity, and a good start in Biblical understanding. But they weren’t acting like the princesses I knew they were called to be. I remember telling them, “you have ‘Jesus’ stamped on your foreheads, and the way you are acting doesn’t make Him look very good.” (Several years later, I’m happy to share they have both become lovely young women, inside and out. Praise God, and keep praying.)

This verse beckons that memory. I live in a small town, and I’m a very active member of our church, so everything I do in our community is noticed. So, when I’m in the store, in a hurry and in line at the speedy check-out, how do I respond to the sweet gal in front of me who has decided to write out a check with careful script, meticulously subtracting her deduction from her checkbook register? Do I huff with impatience, roll my eyes at the checker who glances to me with an apologetic look? Or, do I offer to help the woman with her bag?

When I coach little girls’ softball, and the ump makes a call I don’t agree with, do I throw a fit? Or, do I cheer my girls on, telling them life is like that sometimes and we have to just keep swinging away?

Or how about when I am walking with my kids and my gum has lost its flavor. Do I spit it in a yard that is clearly unkempt, because it wouldn’t matter anyway? Or do I respect the property that is not my own as if it were mine, because another human being made in the image of God lives there?

An ambassador of Christ shows who God is to a godless world. They carry the emblem of the King, saying, ‘this is not my home, I am a citizen of a land far away, but I have been entrusted to bear His name in a foreign land.” They view the things in their lives; home, finances, children, and toys as things they are placed over as stewards, not as owners. They view their days as new opportunities to call out to the lost with the very way that they live.

An ambassador lives as an alien in a foreign land on purpose and with purpose. What impression will I leave today?