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All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. Hebrews 11:13


Background: 1 Peter 1 & 2 and Hebrews 11

I remember life as an alien. In 1953, at age eight, our family moved from Sweden to America, and arrived at Ellis Island on a very cold February morning. The stewards had misplaced our baggage so I spent my first day in America in a smoke-filled waiting room battling a migraine headache. The people who were to meet us at the dock never showed up. We were on our own. We were aliens.

The three-day coast-to-coast train ride brought us to sunny Southern California on Valentine’s Day. We were met by a Swedish family who had moved to America some years earlier. In the excitement of completing the 7,000 mile journey, my dad forgot his briefcase on the platform at Union Station containing our passports, medical records and $300 cash—our family’s net worth. As aliens, we feared the worst. Fortunately, a railroad worker became our Good Samaritan and turned in the briefcase. (More about him later). Dad retrieved it the next day, with everything in its place.

As aliens, we viewed everything we experience in America as privileges. Dad’s first job unloading freight cars was quite a shift from being a pastor. Our small, two-bedroom apartment and our first-ever car, a 1941 Plymouth, were blessings. The beach. The public pool. The supermarket. The schools. These were all blessings. We were aliens. Our Green cards—they were green—reminded us that we were aliens. We were here as guests. America could ship us back.

But on August 26, 1966, things changed. I became a U.S. citizen. I was no longer an alien. As a citizen, I soon discovered that I had “rights.” Things I had previously viewed as “privileges,” were soon seen solely in terms of “rights.” In the process, something was lost. Privileges manifest warm grace. Rights reflect cold law. When privileges calcify, they become rights.

Abraham described himself as “an alien and a stranger among you” (Genesis 23:4). The heroes of faith in Hebrews “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Peter called us “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11), and urged the followers of Jesus to “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17).

As a follower of Jesus and a U.S. citizen, it is easy to forget a core biblical truth: I am still an alien. My true citizenship is another kingdom. This alien status will never change in this life. But that is good. Aliens are near and dear to God. Like widows and orphans, aliens are dependent people. They know they don’t control “The System.” They must depend on God, their Father, and Jesus, their King. Christians who live the ethic of an alien will begin to see God’s grace manifested in daily life. Each day becomes a gift. There is no “right to life.” It’s all privileges. It’s all God’s grace.

I am grateful for my American citizenship. I am also grateful for my life as an alien, past and present. I am a pilgrim, enjoying God’s blessings on this journey until I reach the city of the King of Kings. And when I arrive, I will no longer be an alien—just family.

And what about the railroad worker who turned in dad’s forgotten briefcase—which I still have in my office? His name was Vernon Martin, who was married to Elizabeth Martin, who would become my Third Grade Sunday school teacher and have a dramatic impact on my journey as a follower of Jesus. I discovered this particular bit of “His-story” more than 40 years later. My dad told me the forgotten briefcase story in 1994 just a few hours before I had my only dinner with Mrs. Martin, who had prayed for her former Third Grade student daily for decades and supported Advocates International monthly until her 98th year. She’s with the King now.

Sam Ericsson
[who arrived in the City of the King of Kings in January 2011]

– This article comes from AI’s “No Higher Calling,” a devotional for lawyers.

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