Living As “Aliens and Strangers”

What’s the first word you think of when you hear the word “stranger?”

For many, the answer is “danger.” Of course, there are good reasons that we warn small children not to trust those unknown to them, but sometimes even as adults—perhaps even as a society—our first reaction to those who are different than us is to suspect they could be a potential threat.

The Bible calls for a different approach to strangers. The Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, literally means “the love of strangers.” We tend to think about hospitality as having our friends over for a meal—but so long as it is our friends whom we are entertaining, it is not genuine hospitality, at least in the original sense of the word.

The Bible never promises that all strangers are safe, but nevertheless we are commanded repeatedly to love them. When we do so, the book of Hebrews suggests, we may just be welcoming an angel without realizing it. Those whom some in our society presume to be a threat could actually be a blessing.

Another key biblical teaching about “strangers” is that, if we profess to follow Jesus, we are strangers. Paul, Peter, and the author of Hebrews all use the idea of immigration as a metaphor for what it means to be a Christian. Our primary identity—superseding our allegiance to our country, our city, our family, or any other entity—is as citizens of heaven, and that means that we ought never to fully “fit in” on earth.

While it is appropriate to be grateful for and loyal to our country, we must be careful never to conform fully to the culture around us, because our ultimate home is elsewhere. Refugees—who, even as they integrate into a new country, often carry in their hearts a longing for the country they were forced to leave behind—have much to teach us about what it means to follow Jesus, living and seeking the good of this land while always conscious of our true homeland.

Reflection Questions:

1. How might the biblical command to hospitality—to love strangers—inform how you respond to refugees who arrive in your community?

2. If your first allegiance is to God’s kingdom above any country on earth, how might your views toward foreigners be different than those who are not Christians?

Advertisements

Finding God Part Eight

We cannot bridge the distance between us and God. But fortunately, God himself designed the perfect solution. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. He was both God and human. He lived a normal life, but lived it as God.

Jesus loves people. He talked with them, healed them and made them promises. He even submitted to an unjust death sentence for people. But that wasn’t the end. After three days, he rose up out of his grave. He’s alive!

God saw the death of his Son Jesus as payment for your sin. Jesus took your place on a cross some two thousand years ago. That’s how God sees it. And then Jesus overcame death and actually came back to life to show his divine power. And his power over sin and death is yours. For free!

God Created You with Eternity in Mind

When God created us, He had much more than a 70 or 80 year plan for our existence. He has a specific purpose for each of our lives. His plan spans both our earthly life, and our heavenly (or eternal) one. James 4:14 describes the difference between these two aspects of our existence. It says,

“What is your (earthly) life? It is a mist that appears for a moment and then vanishes.” James 4:14

You’ve heard the saying, “Life is short.” In light of eternity, it is! The Bible says,

“…man is destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

All of us are subject to a physical death. But physical death is only the termination of our physical body, not our soul. Our soul, or our conscious existence living inside our body, is eternal. Our soul will spend all of eternity in one of two places after our physical death: Heaven or Hell.

Heaven is eternal paradise where God lives.
Hell is complete separation from God.

Our natural birth into this world was not only the beginning to our temporary, physical life on earth, but also our spiritual life here and beyond through all of eternity. So in light of eternity, some may see our earthly life as insignificant, but this simply is not true. Your eternal destiny is actually determined by the decisions you make during your time here on earth; most importantly, the decision to make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life. Salvation is available for all of us through Jesus Christ, and through Him alone can we change our destiny from spending eternity separated from God, to spending eternity with God in Heaven. Jesus said:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

The decisions we make in our earthly lives are important for other reasons, too. The way we live as believers can have an effect on the eternal destiny of others who do not yet know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Every day, those around us are watching our example of living for Christ. As Christians, God uses each of us to bring heaven to those around us who do not yet know Him. Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Accepting Nurturing from the Church

“Holy mother church”—historians are not certain who first said it. The statement has been attributed by some to Cyprian, by others to Augustine. The assertion has survived since the early centuries of Christian history—”Who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his Father.” From its earliest days, the church was given the appellation “mother.”

The use of paternal and maternal language is an intriguing phenomenon in religion. We cannot deny the virtual universal tendency to seek ultimate consolation in some sort of divine maternity. We have all experienced the piercing poignancy that attends the plaintiff cry of a child who, in the midst of sobs, says, “I want my mommy.” Who of us, when we were children, did not utter these words? Among those who are parents, which of us has not heard these words?

The nurturing function of the church most clearly links it to the maternal image. It is in the church that we are given our spiritual food. We gain strength from the sacraments ministered to us. Through the Word we receive our consolation and the tears of broken hearts are wiped clean. When we are wounded, we go to the church for healing.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Spend some time reflecting on the nurturing function of the church. Is this evident in your church fellowship?

God has Given You First Place in His Heart

What would you think if someone told you that God sees you as if you have never sinned? The fact is, because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, that is exactly how God sees you. As Christians, we are forgiven, cleansed and free!

That means you are a saint: one who has attained a special standing of righteousness in Christ. You are perfect, holy and blameless in God’s eyes. He calls you His child, an heir to His abundance, and His friend.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9

Truly understanding how God sees us begins with how we see Him. God is not watching from a distance just waiting for us to make a mistake in order to punish us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider what this verse says:

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13

God sees each of us as His own precious child. He is a loving Father showering favor and care to us out of His endless compassion. Some scriptures in the Song of Solomon illustrate the incredible intensity of God’s love for us by comparing it to the intimate love of a husband and wife. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that God is a rewarder of those who seek him.

God sees each of His children in a profoundly different way than most of us see ourselves. Understanding how God sees each one of us is founded upon the work that Christ began in our lives the moment we received salvation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” II Corinthians 5:17

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” II Corinthians 5:21

This new creation is God’s divine work; a complete transformation of our spiritual condition and inner person. He has completely forgiven and cleansed us from our sin – past, present and future. We are in right relationship with Him.

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions (sins) from us.” Psalm 103: 12

We are God’s people presented to Him without any blemish of sin; truly as His righteousness through the work that Jesus did on the cross. God has indeed given us first place in His heart!

Worship – How we are created to praise God

Going to church does not save us, but we are called by God to gather together. The temptation for many is to use the resources that are found online or elsewhere, and meet with other believers, but skip the idea of going to church. Church is where true worship as a community of believers occurs. It is where ministry can happen in a way different than any individual or small group can deliver.

As we grow closer to Jesus Christ, we should develop a desire to worship God, receive His Word, and fellowship with other believers. In fact, it is not just a nice suggestion but something the Bible tells us is God’s will for us.

We encourage you to find a good Bible-teaching church. Review their statement of faith and visit to experience what they are about. Ask about membership requirements and baptism to understand their beliefs and how they view God’s word. Don’t think of it as who can offer the best coffee or coolest music. There is nothing wrong with those things, but they are not the point. Look for a place where you can become part of a community that will help you grow closer to God and worship him well.

Connecting – Understanding the importance of community

God did not design you to live alone. We are all created for community. We are stronger when we are living with others and not trying to do life alone. This is especially true as a new believer. You need other believers around you to encourage, teach, pray and worship with you. Your decision to follow Jesus is an awesome event in your life. Think about who you know that is a follower of Jesus and share this with them. Ask if you could talk with them more about their faith journey.

The Bible’s original Greek word for church is translated as gathering or assembly. The idea being that followers of Jesus would gather to live in fellowship with one another. They would be united by Jesus, study God’s word, love one another, encourage each other through difficult times, help each other grow closer to Jesus and live as a Christian family.

Another aspect to community is the concept of serving the “body of Christ.” The idea is that each follower of Jesus is part of the universal body and we each serve a different purpose that together makes us whole. We are called to care for one another and recognize that if one suffers we are all hurting.

We should think about how to use our time, our talents and our treasure to serve God. You have a role on this community of believers and you need to spend time thinking what it may be. This coming together and serving the greater good is how we flourish and serve God well.