It is an interesting time to be a political science professor, because everyone is talking about the upcoming presidential elections. One question I’ve heard tossed around lately is: What would you do if you were President? The answers range from poignant to completely ludicrous (and make me wonder whether most adults today ever took, much less passed, a basic civics/government class in high school), but I digress …
Instead, I would like to suggest a different question: What if you had a direct line to the President? You know, like in the movies when someone important picks up the phone during an emergency and it rings directly at the Oval Office or aboard Air Force One … Would you use it? What would you say? Would you hesitate and feel like you were pestering the President, or would you feel confident that what you needed to say was worth interrupting our Commander in Chief?
Honestly, you and I probably will not ever be privy to the President’s private line (or Batman’s Batphone, which would be even cooler), but we already have 24/7 access to someone way more awesome: the Creator of the universe. We don’t need any gadgets or special equipment, either! We can talk to the King of Kings (President of Presidents?) anytime, anywhere, for any reason – simply through prayer. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 encourages us to “Never stop praying.” God wants to be in constant contact with us, and he invites us to chat with him regularly.
Do you take him up on that insider access, or do you feel like you shouldn’t bother God because he might be too busy doing more important things like keeping the planets in orbit? Dear friend, please rest assured that he wants to hear from you. He can handle planetary trajectories and your personal issues simultaneously; I promise.
We ought to be in frequent communication with the Lord about every aspect of our lives – and not only that, but we also need to be praying for each other. I would encourage you to read Ephesians 1:15-20 and see what the apostle Paul had to say to fellow believers about how earnestly he prayed for them. What an example for us to lift each other up in prayer! Let’s focus this week on specific ways that we can do just that.
We talked last week about Paul’s peculiar testimony. In Acts 22, he shared the outrageous story of his conversion with the religious leaders who brought him in for questioning. The folks in charge were not too happy with Paul’s comment that God had sent him to minister to the Gentiles (i.e., non-Jews), and they ordered him to be flogged.
Paul cooperated and let them stretch him out and chain him up to prepare for his flogging, then he turned to the guy strapping him down and casually asked if it was legal to flog a Roman citizen who had not been proven guilty. The stunned guards were terrified. They could have gotten into big trouble for beating a Roman citizen!
They tattled to the commander who came and questioned Paul about his citizenship (verses 27-29). The commander made the smart-aleck retort: “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship,” as if flaunting his wealth would trick Paul into admitting that he was lying about being a Roman citizen. Paul answered him simply, “But I was born a citizen.” Back in those days, being a Roman citizen carried with it special privileges, and the commander was rightfully frightened about the possible repercussions for having put Paul in chains.
As for us, I would venture a guess that most of us were born on American soil and gained our citizenship by birth. Others waited, studied, waited some more and then took a test to earn citizenship by naturalization. The latter way is expensive and takes a lot of time and effort. The naturalization process carries most of the perks of citizenship, but birth citizens still have more privileges—like the ability to run for President.
I am proud of and thankful for my American citizenship, but what about our heavenly citizenship? What is it worth? Is it worth the time, effort and potential backlash to let the world know that we’re followers of Christ? This story in Acts 22 was just the tip of the iceberg for Paul; he spent much time in prison and getting beaten up for the sake of the gospel. What is heavenly citizenship worth to you? It was worth more than life to Paul.
Originally posted August 21, 2011
As he concluded his inaugural address on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan shared a story about a young man named Martin Treptow who lost his life in the First World War. He related the story to the economic woes of the time by saying: “The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.”
President Reagan was referring to his goals for improving America’s standing as “the world’s strongest economy,” but I would like to suggest that similar words could be said of our faith-walk, particularly in the context of Easter.
For every Purple Heart recipient and Gold Star military family, there are thousands of men and women in the armed forces who serve our country sacrificially in less drastic ways. In the same way, Jesus doesn’t call each of us to follow in his literal footsteps by facing death for our faith. However, I do believe that he calls us to be ready, and to be willing to make sacrifices for what we believe. Romans 12:1 (ERV) puts it this way: “So I beg you, brothers and sisters, because of the great mercy God has shown us, offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him—an offering that is only for God and pleasing to him. Considering what he has done, it is only right that you should worship him in this way.”
It is too easy for us to become comfortable in our comfy little bubbles and forget that around the world at this very moment, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are facing very real persecutions – including death – for their faith. This Easter and in the weeks and months to follow, let us remember not only Jesus’ sacrifice and glorious resurrection, but also how we can put our faith into action so that “… with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us” locally and around the globe.
Graduation is just around the corner, and for the life of me, I cannot hum the “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation song off the top of my head. Every time I try to think of it, the tune of “Hail to the Chief” comes to mind. Funny enough, both songs are famous for fancy-schmancy ceremonies where people get all dressed up to go sit and listen to other people give speeches. In the former case, we gather together to celebrate academic achievements as graduates enter the auditorium to the “Pomp and Circumstance” march. In the latter example, we hear “Hail to the Chief” when the President arrives at an official function.
Today being Palm Sunday makes me think of another story about someone important coming to town. In John 12 and Mark 11, we read about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, just days before he would be crucified. If you flip back a page to the end of Mark 10, you’ll notice that Jesus had just predicted his death for the third time, dealt with a couple of bickering disciples, and then oh-by-the-way, he healed a blind man.
Jesus was riding high on popularity (with the common-folk, that is; the religious leaders were itching to kill him), and he could have strolled into Jerusalem with all the bells and whistles of a presidential inauguration. Instead, he chose to ride a donkey and enter the city in a rather unremarkable manner. The crowds were still reeling from the amazing news of Lazarus’ recent resurrection (John 11; John 12:9-12), and people came out in droves to see the miracle-worker in person. They sang, “Hosanna!” and blessed him aloud as he came into Jerusalem.
Think about a typical presidential inauguration or State of the Union address. The President talks about his successes, agenda, and goals. I can’t think of any presidential speeches (at least not in my lifetime) where our country’s leader talked about what we should be prepared to do when he was no longer in office. Yet, that’s the approach Jesus took. He spoke candidly (and repeatedly) about his death and the promises of eternal life – about light and darkness, blindness and sight (see the rest of John 12).
I wonder how many of the fans who were shouting “Hosanna!” when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem stayed with the crowd when the cry turned to “Crucify him!” a few days later.