Thursday, July 1, 2010

Citizens of a kingdom

The kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:21 NIV

Jan and Dorothy, nurses, have dual Canadian-American citizenship. Antoinette, from the Azores Islands, is a resident alien in America. Steve, a New Zealander, was adopted by Arizona’s Pima Indian tribe, then moved back Down Under. Cordell is “Jamerican,” a Jamaican-born, naturalized American. Lance, from Australia, recently was sworn into American citizenship. Ana Maria, from Ecuador, is a health educator in a jail system. One of her sons is in pastoral training. Darwin, from Missouri, sat in a Niagara Falls Canadian-side restaurant, looking at the American shore. “Across that river lies freedom,” he declared melodramatically. The server was not amused.

My friends are from all over the world. And the best friends of all don’t even belong to this world! We are aliens. We’re not green and tentacled, but we don’t fit in with most other earthlings. We belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pie-in-the-sky futuristic kingdom that we’ll see shortly after Jesus’ Second Coming. It’s now, and it’s been here since we accepted salvation or “got saved.” We may choke on smog, see cigarette butts and homeless people in the gutter, and hear of oppression everywhere on the globe. But we Christians are, at this moment, living in the Kingdom. It’s both current reality and future promise.

We who live in democratized countries don’t usually understand the distinction between a reign and a realm. The reign is a time and place of government rule. But the realm is the territory or sphere of influence. And because the Kingdom of Heaven is in our hearts, and our Monarch is Jesus, He is our King now as well as after His advent.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within [among] you.” Luke 17:20-21 NIV

American Independence Day is always a fun holiday. It lacks the pressures of Thanksgiving or Christmas; there’s no need to use the day for chores or a dental appointment. On the plus side, you get the day off work, there are fireworks, picnics, swimming, parades, news stories about heroes, and sales. At church this week, we sing “America the Beautiful,” and “Faith of Our Fathers.” Flags and bunting are everywhere. We dress in national colors.

My favorite Independence Days were ones spent in Washington, DC, with the symphony orchestra playing and the shells bursting over the Washington Monument; and at Lake Powell, Arizona, where we swam and boated, watched a parade, met Navajo code talkers, and saw fireworks from a sandstone mesa. I once spent July 4 at the British Museum in London, where I wore my colors and was wished well by a tour guide!

Patriotism means supporting our government and armed forces, waving the flag, cheering for our country in sports, and having the “correct” political beliefs. Are we true patriots for doing these acts, or are there other ways of expressing love and honor for our country?

What about obeying the laws, including speed limits and zoning ordinances? Do we hire and pay people under the table to avoid taxes? Do we lie on tax forms? Do we study the voter information and the news reports and vote for issues, moral principles, and qualified people, or do we vote a party ticket? (Do we vote at all?) People offered their lives for these liberties we sometimes discount, and for the lifestyle we believe is our right.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:25 NIV

It’s been said that you are your true self when no one is looking. Are you a patriot? Are you a “doer” or just a talker? Wave your flag with pride, but follow it up with a life worthy of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

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