The when and where of the Kingdom of God

An extension of the interview with Gary Black, Jr., over at BibleGateway included this blurb from his just released book:

What is important to understand here is that there is no “then” or “when” to the kingdom of God. This reign is a current, progressing, maturing reality, which means Jesus rules today. Jesus is the one who sits on the throne of the cosmos, and all authority, over all things, has been given to him (Matt. 25:3128:18). God is the God of all humanity (Jer. 32:27). God rules today through his Son, Jesus, the king, and he rules over everyone and everything—not just Christians or religious organizations. He is the King of Kings, the ruler of rulers (Rev. 1:5), and the dominion of his Spirit extends to every corner and crevice of the universe at this very moment—a fact even the demons appear to understand perfectly well (Mark 1:245:7James 2:19). The kingdom has come, and there is more to come. Thanks be to God.

It is my continual prayer that I live under the constant awareness that my King reigns NOW… and I need to hear his call. Now.

 

The true POWER of our discipleship in the Kingdom of God

Dallas Willard and NT Wright both ignite my soul for so much more in this life. They do it in a quiet way that doesn’t sound nearly intrusive as others I’ve heard… yet it rings true somehow.

Ortberg in his book Soul Keeping quotes Dallas as saying this:

Your eternal destiny is not cosmic retirement; it is to be part of a tremendously creative project, under unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast scale, with ever increasing cycles of fruitfulness and enjoyment — that is the prophetic vision which ‘eye has not seen and ear has not heard.’

I know. I had to read that several times. Now, every time I read it I begin to weep. Literally.

The Kingdom is powerful and I am so unaware.

N T Wright in Simply Jesus invited readers to reread the Book of Acts to understand “the fact that through Jesus’s followers God is establishing his kingdom and the rule of Jesus himself on earth as in heaven.”

So… why does it not look that way?

Because we don’t “get it.” 

Lord! Help us to finally GET IT!

Understanding the power of the Kingdom right here and right now

One of the things I love about NT Wright’s writing is he uses phrases that scare the living daylights out of people like me who are used to the abuse of those words. When Wright dares to move into territory that sounds a lot like the old “Kingdom Now” theology I studied in college, I get nervous.

Yet, he refuses to surrender vocabulary because someone else misused it. He wants us to understand what Jesus is proclaiming, these are the words Jesus used, so let’s try to recapture the power of what Jesus is saying, rather than get turned off by the abuse someone has heaped on those words lately.

As we discussed Wright’s book in our staff meeting yesterday, the discussion turned toward what we want to see. What can happen is beyond the “epic” language and “epic” experiences we hear about today. As we were talking, the thought occurred to us, “Think of us meeting here, full of the Spirit, talking about the Kingdom, and then someone walking in and out of this coffee shop. Think of the possibility of someone walking in sick and walking out healed… and we would never know about it this side of heaven.

Think about it.

But what do we want? Unfortunately, what we want is to know about it, take a picture of it, blast it on Facebook and hopefully get a TV appearance to talk about our “humble” walk with God. 

It’s what I want. I’m not going to lie.

What if we gave up the ego chasing? What if we gave up the selfie mentality? What if we simply wanted to be transformed in the renewing of our minds and we allowed the Spirit to radiate from us any way he chose? What IF someone walked right past us and the glory of the Lord graciously healed them and we never knew?

Think if we all held that mentality and thirsted for that kind of walk with Christ… the incredible effect that would have on a city… That we didn’t endlessly write about it or book a service at a megachurch to tell thousands of Christians about it… but we just… lived life… Kingdom life.

Think about it.

 

The paradigm of kingdom thinking

One of the more important chapters in Simply Jesus by NT Wright is on Space, Time, and Matter. It’s a mind-bender for me, which I enjoy. The contention is that Jesus wasn’t about telling people how to get to heaven. Jesus was about announcing the coming of the Kingdom HERE… NOW. Not in some “Kingdom Now” type of theology, but demonstrating the actions and words of Jesus show Space, time, and matter as WE think of them aren’t the same when the King interacts with them.

The gospels are not about “how Jesus turned out to be God.” they are about how God became king on earth as in heaven. We need to have our minds truly transformed (Rom. 12:1-2). Paul wasn’t kidding!

It’s WHY we can pray for healing and God CAN indeed answer. It’s why we can pray for nations and God CAN indeed answer. The King has come. The King IS here… pay attention.

 

The obligation of the Kingdom

Reflecting on society, laws, cultural wars… and having a lot of time to think while I was driving across Iowa… I began to think on what I practice but do not articulate very well. I am not sure I can still articulate it well, but this is my attempt.

No matter what laws are passed or are not passed in this country or any country regarding how to treat (or not treat) another person, there is NOTHING in an earthly law that can surpass the obligation of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God dictates a far higher respect for human beings than any human law.

Regretfully, we do not live this out as Christians. As liberals, we will point out how to treat people, or not treat people, and then proceed to point out which specific groups we are talking about.

As conservatives, we will hear a list made and then unintentionally (or intentionally) rebel against that list.

One example is women. In my denomination (which is conservative theologically) we have ordained women into ministry since our founding. But when “women’s lib” came along, all of a sudden we have a move to be “more biblical” and “put women in their place.” We will ordain women, but we have a serious undercurrent that questions that process and balks completely at actually voting women ministers into significant offices in our districts or at the national level.

Beyond my denomination are conservative movements that will not ordain women into ministry at all. Ignoring key passages on key women ministers in the New Testament (like Romans 16), they make declarations like “not bowing to current cultural trends.”

But if we will ALL step back and evaluate, the truth of the matter is that the Kingdom of God obligates us, as believers, to treat women better than any culture could ever mandate. Whether it is in the church and discussing the issue of ordination, or OUTSIDE the church and advocating for things like better maternity leaves in the workplace, the Church should be leading the way in doing better.

There isn’t any law or cultural trend that dictates how I treat women. My obligation to the Kingdom of God calls me higher. It should call ALL of us, as believers, higher.

My obligation to the kingdom of God calls me to treat any human being with far more respect than any culture here on earth could possibly demand of me.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:19-27)

Missing theology

One of the least developed areas of theology in the evangelical church is ecclesiology. We just don’t quite know what to do about this whole concept of the Church. We know about “local church”… maybe. We are so bent on “me and Jesus” and those who theologically agree with me 100 percent… the whole idea of “church” just doesn’t get into our practice or thought.

Simon Chan, in Spiritual Theology, writes that part of the problem is evangelicals have focused so heavily on “the priesthood of all believers,” we’ve severely watered down the idea of church. The goal of the priesthood of all believers was noble. It should have lifted up all believers to have a hunger for spiritual activity and ministry. Instead, it has reduced us to the lowest common denominator.

“We wanted to make everyone in the church into robust saints but succeeded only in making mostly mediocre ones.”

Christianity — Rescued “from” and born “into?”

“The Christian story is not primarily about how God in Jesus came to rescue sinners from some impending disaster. It is about God’s work of initiating us into a fellowship and making us true conversational partners with the Father and the Son through the Spirit and, hence, with each other (1 John 1:1-4). Attaining heaven and avoiding hell represent just one aspect of the koinonia of God’s extended family.” — Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology. 

Mind and Soul

With one foot squarely in the ministry world and another foot barely in the academic world, I am constantly challenged by our “either/or” thinking. I may be wrong about the world truly being “both/and.” Maybe it’s not.

Maybe you have to be either uber-smart… and an academic who is very capable at writing, but not very capable at other forms of communication… OR you are a great communicator, but have tapped out on the learning process.

It is rare when the two come together, and when they do… there is suspicion from both sides of the “either/or” equation.

N.T. Wright is one example. I can “get” his communication style and I love his thinking. His writing challenges me. And therein lies the rub.

Those on the “ministry” side would be suspicious of him because he has a doctorate and teaches. Those on the “academic” side consider him a “light weight” in many respects, and me even saying I am challenged by his writing would show me to be even “lighter.”

Sometimes there is a great “duo.” In this respect, I think John Ortberg and Dallas Willard were a great pair. Ortberg is a phenomenal communicator and Willard was the incredible thinker. Ortberg stretched himself to think more deeply because Dallas Willard was in his life. He also challenged Willard to be a better communicator. It was a combination I enjoyed.

Yet, I have to believe it’s possible to be both… maybe not at “genius” levels on either side, though. I always challenge students who are great communicators to do MORE when it comes to WHAT they are saying. They tend to think just because they are great communicators they just get an audience. That’s a mistake they will pay for down the road, but they don’t seem to care in the short term.

If someone is a great thinker, I would challenge them to work harder at communication. It won’t be “perfect,” but what they are writing and developing is needed. They may be much more capable in an office or study desk in a library, but they also need to be able to either communicate in some way to people in an adequate way… or find a partner who can aid them. Those great thoughts need to be OUT THERE.

So, maybe I’m only dreaming that it’s a “both/and” world. Maybe it really is “either/or,” because we sure act like it more than we like to admit.

 

Surrendering our allegiance to the magisterium of the state

Thoughts from NT Wright’s Simply Jesus. I blame him. Don’t shoot me. ;)

The church for centuries lived in the true power of the Kingdom (not fully, but more at times than others). The church lived out what was demonstrated in the life of Christ and they simply believed him when he commanded them to go and do the same.

Now that in many countries the “state” has assumed responsibility for many of them (that’s part of what I mean by saying the state, not least in Western democracies, has become “ecclesial,” a kind of secular shadow church), the church has been in danger of forgetting that these are its primary tasks.

When we cease to live in the power of the disciples saying, “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29), we cease being the church.

Jesus went about feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and rescuing lost sheep. His Body should be doing the same. That is how his kingdom is at work.