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July 18, 2008

Our spiritual home: Where did I put my visa?

by Dave Malnes

We all tend to live out our lives exercising the freedoms of earthly citizenship without giving much thought to the fact that we are all given temporary visas. We live in this world, but we are not really citizens of this world. We all have an eternal home and the question remains, “Where will that eternal home be?

The Apostle Paul addresses this question in his letter to the Philippians. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 3:20-21; 4:1)

Our most important citizenship is our spiritual one. For Christians, our real home is in heaven where Christ is preparing a room for us. This is our hope and this is the promise God has given us.

This truth is reflected in Scripture when Jesus tells us that we really should not be overly concerned about what goes on here on earth, for we are just strangers. Jesus prays, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (John 17:14)

We are just stopping by, standing firm in the faith, until we get that call from Jesus that it is time to come home. We await his return with a peace and full assurance, but, at the same time, we exercise our faith with fear and trembling so we will not miss that important call.

I had the privilege and opportunity to be a cross-cultural minister in St. Paul, MN. There was a young Hmong teenage girl who came to faith and was baptized. I once asked her if it was difficult living in two cultures at the same time. Her reply was amazing and revealing. She told me that she didn’t live in just two cultures, but three. She was Hmong, American and a Christian.

Are all Christians the same as her? We may not live in three cultures, but we certainly in live in two.

Tao Nguyen arrived in America when he was about fifteen years old. When he started attending high school, it was a completely foreign experience. The culture of an American teenager was something far different than his own. He recalls how embarrassing it was that whenever he went to school, the other kids would complain about how bad he smelled. It wasn’t because he forgot to use deodorant, but they could smell the strong Vietnamese food that his mother proudly cooked every day. Somehow, the smell got into his clothing and since it was such a different and powerful smell, the other kids could pick it up right away. That was very embarrassing for him, so he asked his mother to tone down the spices, especially the fish sauce.

Christians do stand out in this world. A life in Christ is set apart. So often, our desire is to blend in – to not be so smelly. Our natural response is to tone down our witness, our light, and our salt. Then, we are reminded again that we are not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven – and our lives reflect that we are eagerly awaiting that day when we are received into heaven.

What does it mean to “eagerly await”?

Martin Luther interpreted this word as “anxious expectation.” Romans 8:22-23 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Ask a mother how challenging it was to wait those final weeks before giving birth. Especially if they were overdue! It’s very uncomfortable and you are very anxious for this new baby to arrive. As parents, there is no doubt that this child is your own, even though you are waiting for it to be born. In the same way, we have been adopted by our Heavenly Father, even though we have not yet been “birthed” into our glorious body to live in heaven. Our ownership or adoption is secure. We are now in that process of eagerly awaiting until our new birthday when Christ calls us home.

When Jesus returns, he will transform a believer’s “lowly” body and make them like his glorious body. Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 15) that the bodies of believers who are still alive on earth when Christ returns will be changed and the bodies of those who have died as believers in the Lord will be raised and glorified. Our earthly bodies which had been full of weakness from the consequences of sin, along with decay and death, will be forever changed to be perfect like Jesus.“Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”(1 John 3:2-3)Our human mind cannot comprehend how this will all happen. We simply trust in Jesus, who in very nature is God, and who has the power to bring everything under his control, will have the power to make this happen for us.

These words are especially comforting when we stand over the grave of a family member or friend who has died as a believer in Jesus. When you stand over my grave, you might be saddened, but also filled with hope in knowing that we will all be reunited in heaven with perfect, glorified bodies. With this heavenly focus, we are able to “stand firm” in the Lord. This will be my prayerful desire for all my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc… to have a family reunion with all of God’s children forever in heaven. This is the legacy, this is my “joy and crown”, the seed I want to leave that my family tree will grow and sprout with many branches, rooted in Christ Jesus.

One final note —

Paul calls fellow believers in Philippi as “my joy and crown.” The winner of a race receives a crown. The Greek word for crown is “stephanos”, which typically was a laurel wreath placed upon his head. We see ancient Greek pictures of heroes wearing a laurel crown on their heads. A “stephanos” was placed on Jesus’ head and it was full of thorns.

In heaven, we will receive a “crown” of life. However, it will not be made of laurel which will eventually dry up and wither away. Instead, we will receive an eternal crown signifying the victory we received by standing firm in Christ Jesus. It is interesting that from “Stephanos” we get the name, “Stephen”, the name of the man who we read about in Acts as the first Christian man martyred for his faith.

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