January 2019

God's Resident-Foreigners

The first Hee-Haw of 2019 is based on words from the donkey’s owner, Balaam. Although a pagan seer, Balaam recognized a unique place for God’s people in this world. “From the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9)

Jesus prayed for his followers to be
“in, but not of” the world. As people “set apart by God’s Word of truth,” Jesus sends his people “into” the world. (John 17:11-18)

Jesus’ later spoke to Pilate, Rome's Procurator:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.” (John 18:36) As I look back on 2018, I often saw Jesus’ followers fighting over political loyalties.

If the church's highest loyalties are shaped by the world's politics — conservative or progressive — this represents a sad misconception of the church’s identity and calling in the world. Do the values, norms, and goals of our culture supplant the Gospel in shaping our mindset and agendas? This new year 2019, our society will increasingly politicize. Jesus’ followers will speak truth to power, even to Caesar. But will Christians be identified by Gospel words and deeds, or by political agendas?

The Apostle Paul challenged Jesus’ followers in the city of Philippi. What shaped their values, mindset, and agendas? Philippi enjoyed a special status in Macedonia, a directly governed Colony of Rome
(Acts 16:12). Philippians enjoyed all the freedoms and legal protections of Roman citizenship. Paul urged them to divest themselves of pride in any worldly power or social status in order to share and reflect “the mind of Christ.” (Philippians 2)

A more ultimate loyalty, a kingdom agenda is offered.
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20) The word “citizenship” here relates to “politics” or “polis” [city]. The church is a political entity, but a polis shaped by the Gospel, not by government granted or legally protected status. Jesus’ followers are Citizens, Ambassadors, and a Colony. But of God’s kingdom, and not Caesar’s Empire.

I am reading a 25 year old classic:
“Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony,” by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. It is a book that speaks incisively about the church’s relationship to the culture around us. Is the church shaped by political agendas (Left or Right) or by God's truth that sets apart his people in this world. Each week of 2019, I plan to post a short quote from this insightful book. For starters:

“God, not nations, rules the world ... the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar ... the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.”