Dual Citizenship

Proper English schoolchildren

When we were young, my siblings and I would tell others who asked about our nationalities that we were “half-English and half-Canadian”. We’d even make a joke about it, pronouncing half the sentence in a British Surrey accent and the latter half in a Vancouver one. Many years since, as I learned about the kingdom of God and ruminated on the person of Jesus, I saw that Jesus too carried a dual citizenship. A citizen of earth and a citizen of heaven, Jesus modelled the responsibilities and privileges of this dual citizenship.

Most importantly, I saw that Jesus wasn’t “halfway” about anything. Indeed, he was fully God and fully man. This is still a mystery to my human mind, yet in my spirit I’ve intuited from this paradox a valuable lesson in wholeness. I identify still with the fact that I live a sort of “double” life, but I’m no longer divided halfway between my these two identities. I am one hundred percent both. In a sense, I am two hundred percent. And because of Jesus, I am even more than meets the eye: my citizenship in heaven is valid simultaneously with my citizenship on earth. I am fully present on this earth and fully present in the heavenlies, seated with God. [1]

[1] Ephesians 2:6

Reflections: The Power of Abiding

Flickr photo “Solitude” by MindsEye_PJ

“That they might be with him” – Mark 3:14

In the beginning, the story goes, God spoke a cosmos into being, calling it out of chaos, drawing it with His words. Lifting a finger was needless with such omnipotence. Ironically, rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Jesus’ incarnation unlocked the possibility of the divine experiencing physical weariness, but He knew how to abide in rest (a loyal, constant, and perseverant residence or frequent resort) as He had been abiding with His Father since the beginning. Out of this consistent residence with Father God, Jesus drew everything He needed in every circumstance.

With empathy at the core of God’s immanence, Jesus draws others into close relationship with him and teaches them all they are willing to hear. One of His most central teachings is abiding. Over and over again, Jesus tells the importance of abiding and models it with His lifestyle.

Rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Mark 3:13-19 narrates the calling of Jesus’ twelve apostles, stating that Jesus wanted them, called them, and appointed them. To do what? First, to be with Him. The original commission of the twelve disciples, like the original commission of Israel, and the original commission of humankind, is to be with God, to do life with Him involved.

Second, Jesus gives His disciples authority – supernatural power. Power to preach, to heal sicknesses, and to cast out evil spirits. They receive the power to restore. They are likely eager to get out and start putting things right. After all, the church has been involved in justice from its inception. Yet rather than turning them loose, Jesus immediately pulls them into a house, bringing them back to their first appointment – to be with him.

With God dwelling in you, you are powerful. Make no mistake about it: unseen power is at work. The real question is what kind of power you are exercising. That depends whether you are becoming like God. If you abide in God, you will become like him. Without staying close to God, you cannot become like him and will inflict damage as His representative. Your first mission is to abide. The success of the second mission, and every subsequent challenge, depends on it.

Published in Converge Magazine, Vancouver, Canada.

Reflections: Expectations that Shape the Heart

Flickr photo by Jeff Kubina

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” – Matthew 11:3

John, the prophet who announced the coming Messiah, questioned his mission as he sat despondent in jail awaiting execution. Even seeing God in human form, John had to fight with disappointment and disbelief when Jesus wasn’t like he had expected.

People have incomplete perceptions of God and each other, and plenty of expectations about them. Anticipating many possibilities of a new acquaintance or a new relationship, familiarity will expose us to events that will shape our hearts. Depending on the grace in our perspective, we can take offense or retain “good soil” in our hearts. Some propagate the dangerous message that having no expectations is the easiest way out of relationship troubles, which is true albeit it will set you up for a void connection. No trouble, but no depth, either. A garden flourishes if the soil is first tilled.

More or less, we receive what we perceive. Expectations don’t necessarily kill relationship, but a certain kind of expectation can. Expecting my friend to fulfill me in a certain way may blind me to the many ways he is offering me things that could fulfil. But if I am watchful for his gestures that could potentially bless me, I will grasp them. What we focus on, we magnify.

Unvoiced expectations can damage a relationship. A partner’s expectation for the other to speak or act in a certain way can yield resentment unless tempered by grace. Staying silent about expectations to avoid an awkward moment might end up in greater agonies of misunderstanding and hope deferred, which makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).

Jesus knew about pouring into people without expecting to receive the same back. Though countless turned away, many of Jesus’ true friends paid ultimately for their love and commitment to him. 1 Corinthians 13 demonstrates how God’s love in us does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking. God’s love is not given in increments relative to how obedient or loving we are in return. The love God gives is not fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the wrongs done to it. Love never fails.

Scripture taken from the NIV and the Amplified Bible.

Reflections: Perseverant Faith

“The testing of your faith produces patience” – James 1:3

In March, in the tiny community of Esperanza on the west side of Vancouver Island, our group was chopping wood when a hailstorm descended upon us with force, stinging the skin despite our jackets. We took cover until it lessened, then returned to our mauls. Our task was to serve the community by splitting enough wood to stock all the woodsheds. Having no alternative really streamlined our workdays: labour four hours in the morning, break for lunch, resume until dinnertime. Chopping was arduous but simple, as there’s one way to do it: hit the round in the right spot over and over again until it gives.

Many victories are possible through perseverance, and great harvests take time and work. Seeing results is encouraging, but we are tempted to live expecting rapid gratification. We rejoice over answers to heartfelt prayer and a return from seed we’ve sown. But when we don’t see them, faith is tested, sometimes in the company of frustration.

Faith is confident expectation. It involves waiting for something promised. Faith requires patience because everything doesn’t arrive at once, and we need a guard against anxiety about that. Patience allows the fruit of peace to grow.

Jesus declared we would receive the things we believe for in prayer (Matthew 21:22). Sometimes we ask amiss, praying our will be done rather than God’s. God, in his mercy, does not always conform the world to our desires! Yet despite that, God ardently desires for us to pray: “surely the sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Christ championed the virtue of perseverance in prayer. Perhaps we have not seen the wood split because we need to hit it a few more times. That’s one way to cultivate perseverance. God may be emphasizing work he wants to do in us to prepare the work he will do through us afterward. Though our prayers may be for the transformation of our situation, our prayers are simultaneously transforming us. Though it’s confusing and counter-intuitive, while you are interested in your destination, He is interested in your heart; entrust that to Him and he will prove trustworthy in it all. It is impossible for us to pray and for absolutely nothing to happen.

Reflections: Identity

Psalm 34:22 “No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.”

Some characters from the Bible are difficult to identify with. You may not feel the strongest connection to Samuel, Noah, or Job. But David is the Bible’s everyman. To the poor or the young, he is David the shepherd boy; to the eminent, he is David who celebrated majesty with enormous wealth.

We will follow someone we trust anywhere. Having overcome life struggles, David the psalmist is qualified to lead us into worship of God and through whatever life circumstance we find ourselves in. Interestingly enough, Psalm 34 was written after David feigned insanity to escape from trouble with an adversary; Bible times had awkward moments.

Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read tells how relevant the Psalms are: they contain almost every human emotion imaginable. Many churches fear tears. Many frown at laughter, expecting pious sufferers. But David, the “man after God’s own heart” is not afraid to expose his emotions to God, the creator of emotion. A person who knows God knows He is close to the broken-hearted as well as being the giver of joy.

David’s psalm sets the bar high with the opening line: “I will exalt the LORD at all times. His praise will always be on my lips.” Is this unrealistic? If we magnify God and focus on Him moment by moment, we will be prevented from focussing so much on our problems. Our perspective will be filled with His greatness and His ability to handle our situations. Consider the author. David went through hellish times and is qualified to provide a living example.

David has a lot to say about identity. Much recurrent pain we experience and require healing from stems from a broken identity. We become new by shedding old identities in metamorphosis.

David writes, “Those who look to God are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame.” Religion has a tendency to shame us by persuading us that we need to attain perfection. However, God’s message to humanity is diametrically opposite. It’s cheeky and potentially offensive how He calls us His “holy people” and “the righteousness of God” before we have even seen the final work of salvation. It is literally unbelievably good news.

He is the one in whom we find our new identity. We shed past wounds by receiving His love. We escape old habits by making Him our source of strength. As we go, He will provide appropriate “fires” in which we can choose refinement. Sadly, we can also choose to take offense and burn out. That’s why David invites the afflicted to join with him in worship. Our perspective will be changed after we taste God’s goodness.

Reflections: The Sanctified Imagination

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2

Much effort is required to rescue someone, say, from exploitation. Yet the rescue is just the beginning of a new journey. A longer process of healing is needed to lift psychological and emotional weights.

This illustrates sanctification, the journey of transformation that follows salvation. Sanctification means “to grow in grace”. Like a sunflower turns its face towards its namesake, we must also grow to face God and walk into our future with eyes fixed on him.

Transformation begins in the mind. Actions stem from thought patterns: we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we contemplate sin, allow fantasy to take root, or dwell in the past, we entertain deception. Our thinking must be sanctified because 90% of the time, we use our minds as weapons against ourselves.

For lack of a sanctified imagination, one is susceptible to suffering. Falsehood takes root subtly in unguarded minds. Nostalgia can idolize the past instead of trusting in goodness for the days to come. Old pain can distract us from present opportunity, fostering helplessness. Refusing negative thought patterns is part of sanctification.

Without a sanctified imagination, the church has only the world to imitate. It will reproduce bland facsimiles of worldly art, education, economics, relationships, and governance. It follows suit instead of setting an example.

God desires a child-like church that believes anything is possible. Embrace godly imagination: Jesus said to pray for heaven on earth. Is the church dreaming big enough? Some decline the invitation to pray for the impossible, opting instead for safe yet stifling religious principles and platitudes. However, God’s business is doing the impossible. Religion and intellect have not saved humanity and we are not any closer today than before. Saving humanity is God’s domain, and he lives in us. The impossible is nothing.

The prophet Joel wrote that in the end times, God’s people will see visions and dream dreams, presumably ones that will change the world. If the church seeks to carry out God’s plans, it needs the barriers down. The book of Acts references Joel’s prophecy, which the early church lived out, and saw miracles become commonplace. Our imagination must grow in grace or we will resist God instead of dreaming with Him.

Reflections: Wandering

Published in www.convergemagazine.com

“Like a bird that wanders from its nest is a person who wanders from his place” – Proverbs 27:8

I remember my first time witnessing a sparrow hit a window. As the little thing lay lifeless on the ground outside grandpa’s office, it was unbelievable to think that life had departed so instantaneously. Leaving the nest is dangerous, but it’s a necessary process. A bird that never leaves the nest will never learn to fly – foregoing the quintessential characteristic of their species.

Like birds, we all have our nests; a familiar place, tangible or intangible, which we have constructed. We also wander from those nests, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. There are times of distress that force us to pack up and search for something more profitable. In Hebrew history, Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt to escape famine. David, while crown prince, was forced to flee the palace and live as a fugitive. Ruth and Naomi were left widows and had to return to Naomi’s old country.

Wisdom separates these sorts of wanderers from those who simply seek greener grass and are never satisfied. Today’s unprecedented mobility offers both opportunity and disaster. Unbridled experimentation becomes perpetual promiscuity, and I’m not just talking about sex. Unsure of what we seek, we wander, looking with blinded eyes for something that will satisfy. Promiscuity is easy, has moments of exhilaration, but is ultimately unsatisfying.

Our lives are filled with longing for better days. “In this life, you will have trouble”, Jesus says, “but fear not, I have overcome the world”. His challenge was whether you believe God is with you. If you do, your actions will reflect your belief that he is able to make good out of evil, see you through, and finish the work he began in you.

We don’t want to look back over our life and see what could have been if we had only stayed the course. “We feel that under other skies, we would succeed”, C.H. Spurgeon observes. “I may know something about my weakness in the present trial but I cannot know how I might stagger under another. Be wary of changing your trials. To exchange one trial for another is all the relief you will get.”

Not all who wander are lost. Nevertheless, be careful how and why you wander.