Sometimes, right is wrong.
When I first came to Australia, more than two decades ago, I discovered this the hard way.
22 years of age, I arrived in Australia to volunteer at Lilydale Adventist Academy (LAA) in Melbourne as the boys' assistant dean. When I walked out of the airport, following my boss Mr Joey to his car, I noticed something. The steering wheel was on the wrong side of the vehicle. I sat where the wheel was, yesterday, and watched in terror as my driver left the parking garage.
And as we drove, we used the wrong side of the road. It was terrifying! The road came at us in all kinds of weird ways. Intersections were particularly overwhelming. Cars emerged from places where they shouldn’t be and drove, turning in ways that befuddled my visual cortex. Then came my first roundabout. Luckily, it was huge and made sense. Nearly an hour later, we drove through a town named Mooroolbark and I experienced a triple roundabout. By the time we arrived at LAA I was a mess. I exited the car, vowing never to enter another vehicle until I left the country a year later.
Then, Mr Joey pointed to a small car – a green Sigma – and said, “That car’s been donated for you to use while you’re here!”
“You have got to be kidding!” I said.
“You said you have an international drivers licence.” Mr Joey said, “Right?”
I laughed. “It’s just a piece of paper. I’m sure the DMV in California had no idea what they were getting me into!”
After settling into my routine, early one Sunday morning I decided to give the Sigma a test drive. I got in on the wrong side and sat behind the wheel. I started the car and drove it gingerly around the roads at the school. I was amazed how quickly I got used to it.
So, I took her out on the main road. Ater driving for a few minutes, I noticed blinking red and blue lights in my mirrors. That I recognised! I pulled the car over and took out my California drivers licence, my passport and my international drivers permit.
The officer leaned down to Sigma level and said, “What do you think you’re doing?”
I handed him the three documents and said, proudly, “Driving, sir.”
“I followed you for quite some time.” he said, “You are lucky it’s early.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“There are no other cars on the road.” The officer continued, “What would you have done if someone came toward you?”
“Go around, I guess.”
Now looking at my licence, the officer asked a new question – one he hadn’t considered previously, “You do realise you were driving on the wrong side of the road, don’t you?”
I laughed. “Not really.”
“Yes, really!” The officer was getting upset, “Young man, are you fit to drive?”
“I was on the right side, not the wrong side!”
Taking his sunglasses off, the officer stared. “Is this a joke to you?”
“Officer, I am American. We drive on the right side of the road.” I paused, considering my words, “Look, if my nationality offends you, I’m sorry. I can’t just change who I am!”
“If you’re going to stay alive in Australia,” he said, “you’ll have to learn to follow the Australian road rules.”*
Sometimes, right is wrong.
As believers, we are Citizens of God’s Kingdom. We have been given Eternal principals and universal laws that God designed us to obey. But what are we to do with the laws of the land in which we live?
We have a King greater than any king on this earth. And God's Kingdom has a greater more perfect law than any nation on Earth. On our passports, it says Citizen of God’s Kingdom. But the most recent stamp inside says, “Earth, Kingdom of Man.”
So how are we to live in the “now and not yet” of waiting for Jesus to return? Are we meant to run to the hills and hide? Are we meant to embed ourselves into a sinful suburb and hide? Or are we meant to do something else?
Conforming to the World
In Romans 12:2 Paul says we should “not conform to the pattern of this world”** but then in next chapter, he says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and “pay taxes” (Romans 13:6). In fact, he says that “whoever rebels against the authority [local government] is rebelling against … God” (Romans 13:2).
So, as a day to day habit, we are to abide by the laws of the land. We comply with the leaders of the land because we respect God. But, what about not conforming to the world? Where’s the line? Is there one?
Paul continues in the next chapter with ever harder teachings about going along to get along. This time he writes about our faith. Seemingly in contradiction with Romans 12:1 where he encourages a thoughtful lifestyle, saying we are to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice”, Paul says we should accept believers “without quarrelling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1) and that we “must not judge” believers who think differently to us because “God has accepted them” (Romans 14:3).
So, as a moment by moment habit, we are to accept and include fellow Christians who worship differently, eat differently and act differently to us. What about the “true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1) of pure living?
How far are we supposed to conform to society? What if the law of the land requires you to pay taxes and then uses those taxes to run schools that teach things you don’t agree with? What if you are required to work or take an exam on Sabbath? What if your politicians are not kind? We’ve all drawn lines in the past. But, in Paul’s theology, where is the line in the sand between God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the world?
How accepting are we to be of other believers? What if they are driving on the wrong side of the road? What if their theology is so narrow it barely seems to allow even a pinpoint of God’s Love to shine through? What if they are so open they seem to have no boundaries at all?
On the last day before Christmas break, a Fijian-Indian dad of one the students stopped by my office. We have had many conversations in the past. After a few end-of-year pleasantries, I asked, “Do you have a faith background?”
He replied that yes, he and his family were Hindu.
“What holiday do you celebrate at the end of the year?”
“Christmas!” he laughed. “We do Easter, too!”
I joined in the laughter. “What about your Hindu tradition, is there a celebration for the year ending and a new year beginning?”
“We have the Festival of Lights, Diwali.” He said, “But, Hindu’s have many gods and happily participate in all faith celebrations!”
Is this what Paul is talking about? Just accept every celebration and join in?
Life & Death and Love
Paul concludes these seemingly warring thoughts by saying, “none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:7-9).
So, therein lies the difference. It’s life and death. The line in the sand is Love. What do you live for? Are you willing to die for it? Where do you place your greatest love? There is only one thing you can live for, die for and live for again. One.
In false religions, the worshippers worship dead gods. There is no life in them because they are made of wood and stone. And the god’s they represent are not gods at all but merely figments or ideas. You could live for them. Many have. You could die for them. But why? Your life and death would be in vain.
Living in earthly kingdoms as we do, we follow dying leaders. It is, of course, possible for leaders to be followers of Jesus. But, their kingdoms are built on sand. It is a natural law on sinful Earth that death is coming. Every kingdom, just like it’s human leaders, is born and dies.
There is only one Kingdom worth living and dying for. God's Kingdom is the one thing for which you can live, die and live again. Life, death and resurrection. God’s Kingdom where love rules and life eternal awaits. We worship the living God and we live for His eternal Kingdom.
Christ died and returned to life – why? So he might be Lord of both the dead and living.
Are you caught in a dead religion? Jesus died to save you from death. Follow the living God!
Are you investing your life and wealth in a dying kingdom? Jesus died to save you from death. Follow Him into life everlasting!
Jesus is Lord of both the dead and the living. The only line He draws is love. He draws us toward Himself with Love. His life, death and resurrection provide the way out of all kinds of death. Jesus said He came so humanity “may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
Imagine a pyramid that represents all of Creation. Where is God in the pyramid?
It is natural in human thinking to put God at the apex – the point at the top of the pyramid. But this is not how God thinks. Some theologians have talked about Jesus being the bringer of the “upside down kingdom” and for good reason.
Jesus revealed God’s nature. Jesus said, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). As the fullest expression of God to ever visit sinful humanity, Jesus showed through his birth, life and death that God is the bottom of the pyramid. “God is Love” (1 John 4:16) and that Love is the foundation of Creation - God is the entire foundation of the Pyramid, the base on which all else rests. Love is humble. Love is foundational. It’s something you build on. Jesus came to Earth, lived and died as one of us – that’s how God began His upside-down Kingdom.
We are Citizens of that Kingdom. God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom built on Love.
What does the life of a Citizen of God’s Kingdom look while awaiting Jesus’ return?
Most of the Bible talks about how we are to live now. It’s full of illustrations, real-life examples and occasional value-statements. Built on God’s Love and His desire to be known through our love, some of the rules are downright backward to sinful human eyes.
“Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). No revenge. No hard feelings. Love others as much as you love yourself. This was written when God’s people were still very young. Over a thousand years before Jesus walked the earth.
When He did come, Jesus summed up the entire Bible – all the stories, examples and rules – with one statement. Known both inside and outside the church as the golden rule, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them” (Matthew 7:12).
In considering what impact God’s Citizens should be having, Paul said,“If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).
What would it look like if an entire people of God, lived this way?
Feed Your Enemy
A story is told in 2 Kings 6 of the prophet Elisha ending a war with food.
The enemy king from the country of Aram would tell his generals to send raiding parties to Israelite land. When they arrived there were smouldering campfires but no people. Over and over this happened.
Frustrated, the king of Aram demanded his generals tell him which one of them was the traitor. Someone was clearly relaying his commands to the Israelites, thus protecting them. A general said, “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in your bedroom” (2 Kings 6:12).
The king sent a large army to capture Elisha. I wonder if he considered the likelihood of Elisha knowing this move as well and escaping. But, Elisha stayed put. And for good reason. He was about to teach everyone how God's Kingdom works.
The next morning, the servant of Elisha was terrified when he saw a huge army of solidiers, horses and chariots surrounding the city. Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Then the prophet prayed that his servant be able to see the armies of God.
Surrounding the armies of Aram, the servant now saw a vast army of fire – fiery soldiers, horses and chariots – beyond them, covering the mountains. Elisha then prayed that the armies of Aram be blind to his identity. He walked out through the gates, found the captain of the armies of Aram, and led them to Samaria – the capital of Israel.
Once the army of Aram was completely surrounded and captured within the walls of Samaria, Elisha prayed again – this time that they might see the truth of their situation. They were surrounded. Defeated. It would have been the expectation of every man – in both armies – that a slaughter would follow.
Instead, Elisha told the King of Isreal to feed the armies of Aram and send them home. Which, begrudgingly, Israel's king did.
When the soldiers of Aram arrived home, alive but without the prophet Elisha, they explained the situation to their King. The story finishes by recording, “The Aramean raiders did not come into Israel’s land again” (2 Kings 6:23).
By feeding their enemies, Israel had enacted a law of the desert that is still followed in the Middle East today, “If you feed me, I will feed you. If you shelter me, I will shelter you.”
In one simple act of mercy - one meal - God’s Kingdom overcame an entire kingdom of this world. This is what it looks like when we do to others what we wish they would do to us. (see Matthew 7:12). We can bring peace to our relationships, our families and the world by feeding our enemies as well. It’s a peace strategy from the Kingdom of God, one we can practice today!
In the final book of the Bible, another prophet says the kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of God. When this happens, it will be global.
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
While we do not know when this wonderful event will take place, we can begin living by the values of God’s Kingdom now. The moment you realise your sins are forgiven by the gracious blood of Jesus, you received your Kingdom Passport. You’re a citizen of God’s eternal Kingdom – starting NOW!
Faith vs work
Do you follow God’s rules to guarantee you allowed entrance into God’s Kingdom?
Do you follow God’s rules because you are guaranteed entrance into God’s Kingdom?
When faced with this question, nearly every Christian will agree that option two – the gift option – is the right one. But, many people feel threatened by the word “obedience” and some are plagued by guilt because they still think sinful thoughts.
How do you know which way you are living?
In a youth Bible study at Ringwood Adventist Church, they young people passionately debated the difference between a life of works and a life of grace. How do you know if you have grasped the grace of Jesus or if you are trying to earn your way to Heaven by obedience?
As we concluded, I asked them to consider one question: “When you’ve broken His holy law and offended His holy name; when you sin, do you run toward God or do you run away from God?”
Those who know Christ’s love run to Him for forgiveness. Those trusting their own strength, run away.
The God of grace, forgives. The person of grace, repents! When we sin, we run to Jesus, kneel at His feet and confess our sin. Why? Because, God is love; and forgiveness for sin is available only through His Son, Jesus Christ!
As citizens of God’s Kingdom, Jesus' followers embody God’s Eternal principal of Love. Love calls us to obey because obedience increases the Kingdom in us and through us. There is no king like King Jesus. While we wait for His return, He offers an eternal purpose for our lives – living in His love as beacons of hope to the dying world around us. His perfect nature fuels our lives. We live and love, giving glimpses of God’s Kingdom.
We are citizens of God’s Kingdom. But, we do not live there, yet. We live here. This land has rules. This world has laws. In Australia, we need to drive on the left side of the road!
Filled with God's love, as Kingdom citizens, we go where God wants us to go. We become, who He wants us to become. We live in hope of the world to come. Living in this world as Citizens of God’s Kingdom is nothing compared to what it will be like to live in God's fully realised Kingdom.
For now, we are residents here but citizens there. Some of us feel like exiles. Some like missionaries. All of us ache for the day Jesus returns in Glory and establishes His Kingdom once and for all. Until that day, we pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!
This was Prepared for Ringwood Adventist Church combined Sabbath School, Dec 30 2017
** All texts quoted in this post are from the HCSB.