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The Kingdom of God: Why It Matters for You and Me
Of paramount importance is the person and work of Jesus—and the rule and reign of God which he announced, demonstrated and embodied.
The kingdom of God mattered to Jesus.
His first public words were these: The time has come. The kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:14).
We could say the kingdom of God was to Jesus of paramount importance.
Jesus thought the most important and urgent news anyone could hear had something to do with the arrival of God’s kingdom, now available in his own person. Kingdom translates a Greek term that means “rule or reign.” Think of it as the expression of God’s person, his will, aims, purposes and goals. This was alive in Jesus and explains his stunning work.
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When Jesus announced the presence of God’s action in the midst of ordinary human life, he knew it was the best news humanity could ever hear. The kingdom, just a seed put in public life by Jesus’ announcement, will grow into a strong tree that will bear the fruit of deliverance from the bondage of sin. It will mean healing for one’s body, soul and spirit. It will mean freedom from the error and the malpractices of bad religion.
The story the four Gospel writers tell is one in which Jesus explains the kingdom of God in his teaching, models it in his way of life, and demonstrates it in miraculous deeds of power.
Being the Church as God intended is at its core simply an effort to take Jesus seriously—and pretty much all he talked about was the kingdom of God. Other biblical doctrines and matters of church are important, but what should focus all discipleship and ministry is the person and work of Jesus—and the rule and reign of God which he announced, demonstrated and embodied. The Church is the continuation of the kingdom-movement Jesus started. It has no other agenda.
When the kingdom comes up in the Jesus-story, two verbs are usually close by: enter and receive. This means Christian spirituality has as its first practice doing all that we can to enter the realm of God’s action in our life and on the earth, and to be recipients of it. This will entail spiritual practices that position us for reception. I will describe these in a later newsletter, but for now just take a brief inventory:
Can you see God at work in the world?
Do you try to enter and receive?
Why or why not?
Do your efforts seem to work, or are you frustrated?
When our approaches to Christianity put anything other than Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom at the center, we are sure to feel unsatisfied with our progress and frustrated. Maybe even hopeless to the point of giving up.
For the next week, just employ this simple spiritual practice:
Be alert, try to notice God at work in the everyday ordinary things of life. You might feel called to respond in some way—that would be appropriate. But most importantly I want you to come to see that Jesus was right: the kingdom of God has drawn near. We are surrounded by it. Noticing the kingdom among us is the basis and motivation for repenting, for rethinking all your ideas and commitments in life. Noticing God at work is the grounds for the robust belief, the confident faith to which Jesus calls us.
The Kingdom of God Is Never at Risk.
The Church is constantly tempted to engage in hand-wringing because of cultural shifts in the world. I want you to consider this: God is not stumped! There is no situation in which the rule and reign of God cannot overcome attempts to neuter him or cast him and his creative intention aside. God is not thrown off by the sexual revolution of the last 60 years. Our political crises are not “checkmate!” against God’s love, wisdom and power.
From the original fall of humanity to December 2022, God’s rule and reign have been present to, and seeking redemption and healing of, his broken creation. Jesus modeled a kingdom focus for the Church. The role of the Church is to fully differentiate as followers of Jesus while staying connected to non-Christian culture as a non-anxious, healing, justice-seeking presence.
We do this best in the confident knowledge that the kingdom of God is never at risk. If the kingdom, as I said above, is personal—the manifest action of a personal God—how could it ever be at risk? Understandably, we get concerned about things, but God is not nervous about the outcome of the world.
Therefore, we can stand as confident, relaxed, gentle and kind ambassadors of God’s kingdom as we thoughtfully listen to others, help them come to faith and follow Jesus. We join God in the Divine conspiracy to overthrow evil with good (the thesis of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy), cooperating with God in the renewal of all things.
As you go about life and work in the kingdom of God, hold close to your heart this certainty: Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
In this difficult time in culture…Peace be with you!
Hear in your heart: Go! As the Father sent me, so I send you…
Receive the capacity and character of God…Be filled with the power of the Spirit!
May these kingdom blessings free us from fearful, defensive and angry interactions. May they rather fund a joyous, humble, and winsome engagement with our world, our neighbors and even our enemies.