Citizenship

Recently I had the exciting privilege of attending a Citizenship Ceremony at the Ballarat Town Hall. The candidates for citizenship came from Canada, China, Ghana, India, Iran, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo, United Kingdom and the United States.

I was particularly excited because I had been invited to attend by my friends, a family from the Philippines. The husband and their two daughters were candidates for citizenship.

The ceremony conducted by the Mayor, Cr John Burt OAM, was impressive. The welcome from John, the candidates’ pledge, the address by Cr Belinda Coates, presentation of citizenship certificate and the singing of the Australian national anthem led by a student from Damascus College all contributed to the occasion. Belinda during her address acknowledged that for some the journey toward citizenship of Australia was relatively easy while for others it had been fraught with hardship. However, whatever the circumstances, new life in Australia now held the promise of safety, security and opportunity for all.

A further privileged occurred after the ceremony when my friends introduced me to one of their work colleagues, a lady from Iran, who unbeknownst to my friends, had also presented herself as a candidate for citizenship.

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It was definitely a happy and exciting occasion, and it was an honour to express my love, support and encouragement to my friends through my attendance.

The whole notion of citizenship brought to mind the amazing privileges we have as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, not an earthly kingdom constrained by geographical, cultural or social boundaries but a kingdom that offers eternal hope, security, safety and opportunity. The benefits and privileges of this kingdom are available today. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life abundant.” This life is available to all trust in God, where we are all one in Christ Jesus.

In Matthew 13 Jesus explains,

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2 and Philippians 3 uses the analogy of citizenship to explain the nature of our new-found relationship,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace,…For through him we have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people…”

“But our citizenship is in heaven…”

Privileges of citizenship carry with them the responsibility of living in a manner that honours and contributes to the well-being of others in our new-found home.

As well as attending the recent Citizenship Ceremony with my friends I’ve also had the honour of introducing them to Jesus and help them discover the privileges of belonging to the kingdom of heaven.

The graciousness they have expressed toward me throughout has been a humbling.

Lazarus, Come Forth…

The colloquial phrase, “The greatest come back since Lazarus” remains in use today. It may be used by a commentator, or reporter in the sports media to describe a seemingly miraculous turnaround by a competitor or team facing defeat during a sporting event only to overcome enormous odds to pull off a win.

The phrase comes from the account of the miraculous raising of Lazarus by Jesus described in chapter 11 of John’s gospel. Allow me to encourage you to read it this Easter.

Just imagine Lazarus, who had died and had been in the tomb for four days, could have been among the crowd that had gathered a few days later for the Passover festival and celebrated Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem by waving a palm branches and shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”

This same Lazarus, was dead is now alive fully participating in life once again.

The stone blocking the entrance was removed and in response to the call of Jesus, in a loud voice,“Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus emerged from the tomb. His hands and feet were still wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth remained around his face. Lazarus had emerged still bound in his grave clothes.

The raising of Lazarus doesn’t stop there, Jesus said to crowd, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

While the account of the raising of Lazarus is a forerunner of the death and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus it is also descriptive of our own “death” and “resurrection” experience when we were baptised into Christ.

In Colossians chapter 2 the Apostle Paul explains that we were buried with Christ in baptism and wereraised with him through faith in the working of God who raised Christ from the dead.

Now Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, and the crowd of mourners were engaged by Jesus to set Lazarus free of the grave clothes that were still holding him back.

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In a similar fashion Jesus calls us forth to be born again, to become a new person however, the grave clothes of past hurts, misunderstandings, misconceptions, misinformed expectations and unforgiveness can hold us back. Jesus wants us to walk in our new-found freedom of the new birth and so he engages other believers to gather around, to nurture and to help remove the grave clothes of the past so that we can walk in the fullness of our freedom in Christ.

The miraculous events of Easter declare the amazing work of God, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

The raising of Lazarus is a story of hope. The Easter events contain a message of hope. The Christian message is a message of hope.

This Easter ask the question, “Is there anything that is holding me back from experiencing the fullness of the new life God has given me?” Ask, “If God can perform a miracle for me personally what would it be, what would it look like?”  and ask God to bring across your path someone who can help, someone who will listen to your story and help you unwrap the grave clothes that are holding you back. Finally ask them to pray with you for the miracle that God wants to bring about.