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Citizens of Heaven - Living on Troubled Planet Earth

Citizens of Heaven – Living on Troubled Planet Earth
March 23, 2003

[Preached as dialogue between John O. York and Rubel Shelly.]

John York: We are at the halfway point for a series of sermons Rubel and I are preaching on the theme “Faith Seeking Understanding.” It is a study of some of those famous characters named in Hebrews 11 – how they lived by faith and what we can learn from their experience that would instruct and encourage us. Because of what is happening in the Persian Gulf, we are going to do something a bit different today.

Rubel Shelly: Today we want to engage you in a faith-seeking-understanding look at America’s present involvement in a “Coalition of the Willing” against Iraq. What a variety of feelings must be in this room today! Some of you are pacifists who oppose the use of violence as an instrument of government policy. Some of you – while regretting and abhorring war – believe there are times when war is necessary to protect innocent souls and establish justice. Among those who hold the latter position, there is the question of a specific war – World War II, say, or Vietnam – as to its legitimacy. Christians whom I respect are on both sides of that issue today.

John: We are not here today to debate that issue. We feel no obligation to do your thinking for you. You are as intelligent, sensitive, and capable of seeking the heart of God on the matter as we are. On one thing, however, we are agreed: Christians are always reluctant about war. We pray for and seek peace – heaven’s shalom in the world’s tumult.

Rubel: Christians are called to be good citizens. We pay our taxes. We speak our minds. We support parties and candidates. In the circumstances of this day, we heed the call of the Lord through his servant Paul:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior . . . (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Please join us as John leads us in prayer for our nation, its leaders, our men and women in military service, and our anxious fellow-citizens.

John: Prayer for the nation.

Rubel: Christians are also citizens of Planet Earth. Jesus is not the national deity of America. We must never again be so ethnocentric as we have been at some times gone by in our history; there is certainly a difference in defending innocent people and creating empire – something we did not do in Europe or Japan a half century ago, we did not do in Kuwait or Iraq a dozen years ago, and we are not seeking to do in Iraq now. We are under obligation to treat Europeans and Africans, Jews and Arabs, Russia and France as our neighbors – to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Since John Fields was there a year ago, “Woodmont Hills East” has been worshipping with us each Sunday morning via Internet in Egypt! And there are other brothers and sisters in Christ worshipping with us today in countries around the world.

John: The world’s natural resources are not ours alone. Other people have dreams, legitimate ideals, and children. They are made in God’s image, and their souls are priceless. Their legitimate rights are to be respected. And they are to be prayed for as well! The very next verse of the text we read just a few minutes ago says so: “God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). So please join with us, then, as we pray for our troubled world.

Rubel: Prayer for the world – and for all to be saved and to come to know the truth of the gospel of Christ.

* * * * * * *

Rubel: We want to invite you now to join with two or three people around you and spend time together in prayer. Pray for those in harm’s way, pray for all who are so anxious and fearful for those they love, pray for our leaders, pray for the people of Iraq and their soldiers and their leaders, pray that God will manifest his sovereign will, pray for peace.

If you are uncomfortable joining with others you may just want to pray silently as individuals, but we encourage to join with others near and pray and listen and share your hearts with God.

Group Prayer Time

* * * * * * *

John: Our eating and drinking together this morning not only declares our identity in Christ, but also our identity with one another in the body of Christ. This morning we gather as a local assembly of that body, but we also recognize that this particular gathering participates in the world-wide body of Christ. As we eat and drink we declare our identity as citizens in God’s kingdom. As we already have spoken and prayed over those who share our identity as Americans and those who share our identity as citizens of this planet, we recognize that for all who are in Christ Jesus, there is a kingdom identity, a citizenship in heaven that supercedes all other identities.

Rubel: When Paul wrote his letter of intimacy and friendship to the believers in the Roman military town of Philippi, he spoke to them about the way in which their ultimate allegiance was shaped not by Jewish or Gentile background or their Roman citizenship but by their kingdom citizenship. He understood that even though he himself was in prison, life in Christ was more important than life and death on this planet. “To live is Christ, to die is gain” – when one is ultimately a citizen of heaven. But in the meantime, while the Philippians live out their lives on earth, he exhorts them to live as though they already are citizens of heaven.

John: “Whatever happens to me,” he tells them, “you must live in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing side by side, fighting together for the Good News” (Phil. 1:27, New Living Translation). The military language of standing side by side and fighting together would not be missed by people living in a city dominated by military images. But this is a different battle front. It is the battle for heavenly citizenship and that battle is won, he goes on to say, by Heavenly citizens taking on the mind of Christ. So Paul calls on them to share the mind of Christ:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).

Rubel: We want to pray together this morning for the Spirit of Christ to reign in the hearts of humans on this earth. We want to pray for God’s kingdom will to be done on this earth as it is in heaven. Today is an especially important time to share in the prayer that Jesus himself prayed when he was on this earth. Will you join us in saying the prayer of Jesus from Matthew 6.

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen (Matt. 6:9-13, NKJV).


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