The How and Why of the Kingdom of God

I can’t describe this topic better than is contained in this short soundbite from the After Class Podcast. Please take 15 minutes to listen. I hope you’ll consider listening to more of their material as well.

“The Kingdom is not advanced top-down, by the sword, by the legal gavel, through the pen of legislation—the Kingdom comes as a GIFT.” – John Nugent

The After Class Podcast, Episode 2.9 – Explaining the Kingdom – How and Why
(https://afterclass.libsyn.com/explaining-the-kingdom-how-and-why)

If you found that to be of value, here’s an excellent follow-up episode: https://afterclass.libsyn.com/228-embracing-the-kingdom-part-1

Thanks to John, Ron, and Sam at the After Class Podcast!

What is the church, and why is it important?

First of all, the word “church” tends to bring a certain picture to our minds today–at least us in America. We instantly picture a building, usually with a steeple and a cross. It may be large or small, with a peaceful country setting or the middle of a big city. Some may picture a more ornate building than others with beautiful stained glass windows, intricate statues, and fancy seating arrangements. Even searching for the picture for this article, I only used the keyword “church”. This is just one of many buildings that popped up.

Hopefully though, there are some that simply picture a group of diverse, imperfect people gathered to worship a perfect God and celebrate their unity in Christ. That’s what the church is. It’s not a building. It’s not a regularly scheduled event that we “go to.” It’s a group of people living out their purpose as Kingdom citizens to be the salt of the earth and light to the world.

Perhaps we would be doing ourselves and everyone else a favor if we began to refer to the church as the ekklesia–the Greek word that is often translated as “church” (Matthew 16:18, among many others). Maybe this would help us wipe out the cultural definition from our minds and give us a new perspective of who we are. We say without thinking things like: “Let’s go to church” or “Where do you go to church?” We need to leave this language behind. If we really believe that we ARE the church, then that word is not something we “go to” on Sundays. We ARE the church 24/7/365.

Even more than ekklesia, I’ve grown fond of using “Kingdom Community” to refer to the body of Christ. It reminds us that we are called to live in community with one another (Acts 4:32), and it reminds us that our lives should reflect a Kingdom perspective (Matthew 6:33).

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the word “church,” as long as we can train ourselves and teach others what it really means and what it does not, and we use it correctly.

To answer the question in the title, I’ll use “church”–if for no other reason than to help create a new picture for your mind to associate with the word. I hope that you’ll provide your answer to the question in the comments below!

Put simply, the church is the body of Christ! What could be more important than the manifestation of Christ on earth right now, representing the Kingdom? We are the community of the believers, bound together by Christ in perfect unity.

There is a local aspect of the church, as well as a global aspect of all citizens of God’s Kingdom. I believe most of the emphasis of practical instruction in the Bible is placed on the local body, because that is where we as individuals are meant to operate—both in receiving edification as well as offering edification. The unity of the church is based on LOVE, which we have received a perfect example of in Christ. In fact, Jesus says that the way the world will even recognize us as His disciples is how we love EACH OTHER (John 13:34-35). One might think that the world would notice us when we love strangers, and indeed we should; but Jesus said the world will notice our great love for ONE ANOTHER, the church. That inexplicable bond was demonstrated so powerfully by the first century church—Jews and Gentiles, once vehemently opposed to one another, now locked arm in arm and praising Jesus together. Rich people liquidating their assets so they could support the poor, slaves congregating with the free, all in love. How could the world not take notice?  (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

We come together as His church and remember that He has arranged us according to His purpose. He has gifted each member in the way that He planned so that we can build each other up. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11,18) He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can help equip other saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we ALL attain the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the FULLNESS of Christ! (Ephesian 4:11-13).

Before Jesus was crucified, he prayed that that we would all be ONE just as He and the Father are one. He was praying for His church. He was praying for all people that believed and would believe in the future.  (John 17:20-23)

The church cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 reads like this: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Notice that it’s not: “so it is with the church.” What did Jesus ask Saul on the road to Damascus? Acts 9:4: “…Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Those people Saul was seeing thrown in prison–they were part of Jesus–they were His body! In 1 Corinthians 1:13, Paul pleads with the members of the body there, asking them “is Christ divided”? Surely the church can’t be divided if her head is not divided Himself. Eve came out of Adam, and is Adam in another form. Eve represents the church just like Adam represents Jesus (see Ephesians 5)! The church comes out of Jesus, and is Jesus in another form. The church is Jesus’s bride, and they are one.

Jesus is also referred to as the new Jacob and the new Israel. Consider when Jacob met his would-be wife, Rachel, at a well in Genesis 29. It was the middle of the day–an odd time to go fetch water… Now look at John 4:1-45. This is the story of the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the very same well mentioned in Genesis 29. What time did Jesus meet this woman? Noon! (John 4:6) She even questions if He is greater than her father Jacob (vs 12). Jesus gently leads her to the truth that He is indeed–He is the Messiah, the Christ, and He’s come to provide the eternal spring of Living Water. Who does this Samaritan woman represent? Samaritans by birth are part Jew and part Gentile. She is a perfect representation of the church which has that same genetic makeup! We are the new creation, we are the new race (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, 1 Corinthians 10:32)–where earthly, fleshly distinctions no longer carry any weight or shame!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

What are your thoughts? Please share with us!

Light the Fire

Imagine you’re a first-century Christian—a brand new convert in your family. You met Jesus face to face. You listened to his teachings. You saw his miracles. You know in your heart that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He came to save the world. He was just crucified for your sins and he was raised again, defeating death forever and ever.  Your immediate family doesn’t believe. They have made many comments about Jesus being a threat to society and their civilization. You know that mentioning your beliefs could be dangerous, but you’ve just realized the most important thing imaginable. You have the keys to a truly full and abundant life (John 10:10)—a life that extends well beyond our short time here on earth. 

What do you do? Are you going to share this truth with your family? What if they disown you? What if it puts your life in real danger?

How can you just sit on such find, though? (Matthew 13:44-46) You’re ready to give up everything you have to follow Jesus. You know that he is the way and the truth and the life. But you’re more scared than you’ve ever been.

You have close friends that were with you listening to Jesus. They have also counted the cost and are devoting their lives to follow Jesus. They have to make the decision of how to handle this with their unbelieving families as well. One friend of yours was already hauled off to prison for proclaiming Jesus to his friends and family. Another one of your friends was beaten terribly—after going through this, he boldly rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). You are greatly inspired by their heart, dedication, and conviction. Their fire fuels your fire. You know that your life is now in Christ, it is no longer yours.  You’ve been crucified with Christ—it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you (Galatians 2:20).  You are no longer concerned with things of the world (Mark 4:19).  You are not seeking the approval of man, you are living your life for Christ (Galatians 1:10). 

In light of this, you proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom to your family. As you reluctantly predicted, they disown you. Your life as you once knew it has changed in a matter of moments. There are threats from former friends. You’ve lost your source of income. But you have a new family in Christ and His disciples. You’ve banded together, knit together in love and Christian unity (Colossians 2:2). The fire within their spirits keeps your spirit warm and brightly shining. 

You remember this teaching of Jesus (recorded in Matthew 10:16-23): “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

How easy would it be to give up in these circumstances? What if you were going through that without brothers and sisters? 

Bottom line: We need each other. Keep encouraging each other. Keep your fires lit so that you in turn keep my fire lit.  We warm each other and keep each other going in this life. Satan wants nothing more than for us to be separated from each other. We are like coals in a fire—if you pull one out, it doesn’t keep burning long at all. The glow of the ember quickly dies and you’re left with a cold lump. But together, those coals will keep burning for a very long time. As more fuel is added, the contagiousness of their warmth spreads. We are meant to be together—fueling each other so we can then fuel others.

We are like coals in a fire—if you pull one out, it doesn’t keep burning long at all...We are meant to be together—fueling each other so we can then fuel others. Click To Tweet

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” – Romans 12:11-13

“If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” – Jeremiah 20:9

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective – Part 2: Kingdom Community

This morning Luke and I were talking about when boy Jesus was lost from his parents. We discussed how he and his parents had gone to Jerusalem with a group of family and friends for Passover (Luke 2:41-50). Luke’s immediate response was, “like Life Group?!” (what we call our small group we worship with). The more I thought about it, the clearer a picture came to me of what their lives must have been like. They went to Jerusalem with Jesus’s village. They went with people they worked and lived in community with to help raise each other’s children. God trusted Mary to raise his Son and Mary trusted her village. I stopped in awe at the insight my 4-year-old son had brought to this story.  

We see another community formed in the name of Jesus in Acts 2:41-47. The first Christians worshipped, evangelized, took care of each other, ate together, rejoiced together, and had all things in common. The result of that was that (vs 47) “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” It is so easy in our busy lives to compartmentalize family, “church,” work, entertainment—but what would our lives look like if we meshed all of those together?  What if our church was our family, and what if those bonds were woven through all aspects of our life?

What if our church was our family, and what if those bonds were woven through all aspects of our life? Click To Tweet

If we mixed family and church together, the church would look a lot more like family. We do call each other brothers and sisters but do we really have a relationship close enough to really be analogous to that of brothers and sisters? I would say the first century church did. We can only achieve that through engagement with one another. We need to know each other well enough to know our spiritual and physical struggles, not just by sharing them during confession or a prayer request time but because we are living the struggles together, discussing them, supporting one another through them via prayer and spiritual discipleship. When Jesus taught people and discipled them, he took time to break bread with them. Meals are a time of fellowship and conversation when we learn what is going on in each other’s lives. We all need to eat so we might as well do that together, in restaurants or in each other’s homes like family. Today people often live far from their biological families so what a blessing it is that we can raise our children with spiritual aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., wherever we might be! 

What if we mixed church and work? It might look like putting in a few extra hours of work so we have more to share with a family in our group who is struggling financially (Ephesians 4:28); taking care of a sister’s children so she can work; discipling co-workers and introducing them to the rest of our community to show them Jesus’s love abiding in all of us; hiring a brother or sister to do some extra work to provide for our own. We are not told to work so that we can have enough to build bigger barns or store more in our storage shed. We’re told to work so that we can have enough to give to him who has a need. If that is our motive, our occupation should not be what defines who we are. In our community, we all have a variety of spiritual gifts but the nature of a group also offers a variety of physical skills we can offer one another, whether that be fixing an air conditioner, treating a pet, teaching a child, etc. We are more complete and provided for because we have each other.  

God lays the foundation for rest in the Old Testament at creation. He institutes the Sabbath as a time to stop working and rest in Him. He set aside feast days for his people to rejoice and celebrate their lives and who they were in Him. Likewise, today we all need a rest. We need time to clear our minds from the stresses and trials of life. We need to rejoice together in our successes and rejuvenate one another to continue.  We need to celebrate our unity by gathering frequently and participating in it. We all have hobbies or things we do for entertainment. Do them together! Take a night to gather to eat dinner to celebrate a graduation, promotion, or a new Christian. Make spontaneous invitations to lunch!  The technology and communication of the day makes this easy for us. Every time we gather, for whatever purpose, we have the opportunity to keep or place our minds on spiritual things, to encourage one another, to find out a need, to pray together. It allows our children to be around other children who are being taught to follow the same God and to view other godly role models. Playing a game together, sitting around a fire, or drinking a cup of coffee together fosters the perfect environment for us to invite those outside of Christ to experience the love of our Savior through our kindness, gentleness, and goodness to all men (John 13:35). Jesus’s village even went on a trip together! (Luke 2:42) 

Paul tells the Christians at Colossae to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is… Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). We can surround ourselves and our children with a people who strive to “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). We have already been granted the Kingdom of God here on this earth and our Christian villages are a reflection of what we anxiously await (Philippians 3:20). What better way could there be to prepare our children to be disciples for our King?! 

(If you missed Part 1, read it HERE.) 

God’s Orchestra

Imagine a symphony orchestra. You’ve got everything from a flute to a trumpet to a violin to a menagerie of percussion instruments. Individually, they are all so different, producing completely different sounds—even players with the same instruments may produce different sounds or notes—but they all come together and speak as one united orchestra. If the trumpets wanted to, they could probably overpower the rest of the group. They could take all the spotlight for themselves. But the sound you hear would no longer be the orchestra. The trumpets are only a part; they are not the whole. They can’t display the full beauty of the orchestra alone. 

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, we read that a manifestation of the Spirit is given to each individual for the “common good.”  The Greek word there for “common good” is “symphérō,” which can also mean to “be in harmony with,” much like that symphony orchestra. So what happens when we’re not in harmony?  Whose voice is heard: a few individuals here and there, or the collective voice of the Spirit through all the united members of the body?  

Just before this passage, Paul points out to the church in Corinth that they used to worship “mute” idols (1 Corinthians 12:1-2). Of all the ways to describe the idols, he chose to describe their inability to speak to set up a stark contrast. The God they worship now *does* speak. He speaks through you and your fellow church community members. When you proclaim that “Jesus is Lord,” it is the Holy Spirit speaking through you. There are a variety of gifts, service, activities, but they all come from the same God. God speaks in a variety of ways through different members of one body. (1 Corinthians 12:3-6) 

God is playing a symphony, and I am but one instrument. God designed His church so that I would be surrounded by other instruments of His. We each have a manifestation of the Spirit, but completeness of the symphony cannot be realized on an individual basis (1 Corinthians 12:11). How else can we hear the symphony of God except through a local community of believers? 

What should this mean for us? Are we living this out with our church communities?  

We often refer to each other as brother or sister inside the walls of a church building. It’s easy to say we’re united when we’re sitting together in a big auditorium during a scheduled service. We hear the preacher’s sermon, listen to one or two others speak, and sing a few songs during the hour or so we’re together, then many of us are off to our separate lives for the rest of the week.  

Is that God’s idea of a symphony? There are a couple of aspects to examine here: 1) Can we even be a proper church community if we only see each once (maybe twice) a week? 2) Does our assembly reflect individualism (just the trumpets in the orchestra) or does it reflect a community, more of an orchestra, as God intended?  

I believe the answer to the first question is “no,” but to unpack that idea properly would require a longer article than you might want to read. Perhaps we’ll do a series on the importance of community life in the church body. In the meantime, read Acts 4:32-37. 

What do you think about question #2? Of course, we’re speaking in generalities. You may belong to a body of believers that has truly embraced the idea of God’s orchestra. In many churches in America, however, how many of God’s instruments are relegated strictly to membership in the audience? Is the spotlight on a couple soloists or the full orchestra? Apart from singing a few songs and hopefully greeting each other in joy and love, did everyone exercise their gifts that are talked about in 1 Corinthians 12? That passage certainly isn’t alone in talking about the importance of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says: ”When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” The gifts each of us bring to the table are designed and given so that we all play a role in building up the body. Maybe your church community is operating so that the full orchestra is playing, but if you’re only hearing a couple soloists week in and week out, it may be time to examine if that should change.  

What if the trumpets didn’t want to take the spotlight, but all of the other instruments just refused to play? Maybe that’s a situation you find yourself in. You’re not trying to overpower anyone; you’re just trying to use your gifts that God has given you. How do you encourage the rest of the body to join in the music? I believe an answer to that may be found as we look into that first question of the importance of living life together as a community. When we approach all of life as an opportunity for worship, edification, discipleship, and teaching, we are much more likely to reveal the Spirit’s working in each other’s hearts and lives. If we only ever think about those things during a special service once a week, it’s going to be hard to make any necessary changes. This relates to what has been taught for so long, whether implicitly or explicitly—that the preacher preaches and the church body listens. Are we really trying to equip each other to fight the good fight? Are we calling each other to do what can only be done through the indwelling Holy Spirit?  

Ephesians 4:11-16 should be useful to all parties here. Certainly, God has gifted each local body with a special group of leaders that are able to teach the other members of that body. But they aren’t to just teach for academic’s sake. They are there to equip the others for the work of ministry. Funny, some of us might see the phrase “work of ministry” and think “that’s what we pay the preacher for.” Quite the contrary… But this problem can go two ways. Embracing the idea that we are a priesthood of ALL believers (1 Peter 2:9) is a direct challenge to those who enjoy a special leadership distinction. Truly, if we don’t all work together to build up the body of Christ, we will never achieve the goal that is mentioned in that Ephesians passage—”to attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).  

The fullness of Christ. The fullness of Christ is like hearing the full, rich sound of an orchestra. God wants us to experience that together with our brothers and sisters. That takes a commitment from you as well as your spiritual siblings. A symphony can’t be played by one instrument.  

Are you a soloist? God has been and wants to keep using you. Build up the other instruments around you. Think about ways to disciple brothers and sisters in the everyday stuff of life. Equip them to do the work of ministry. Edify them so they can edify you. No one is meant to walk the narrow path alone.  

Are you an audience member? Have you gotten comfortable in that role? God designed you for more than that. If you believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, then let Him use you in ways that would not be possible on your own. If we’re going to use Philippians 4:13 in reference to how well we can play sports (a gross misapplication if there ever was one), then we ought to be more comfortable with the idea that the Spirit can use us in ways contrary to our natural tendencies. Let the Spirit work through you. Let Him change you. You are a new creation, the old has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Don’t use your human characteristics as a crutch—we are no longer merely human if we have the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16). The Spirit may very well use some of your natural traits for the good of the body, but we must always expect and be ready for change and growth!  

Let’s grow together with our local church bodies so that we can represent the fullness of Christ to those outside. More on the idea of community life later…

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective – Part 1: Jesus’s Village

What does it look like to raise my children with an eternal perspective? How do I even do that? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

This is what I want my children to know, to feel, to believe, to experience; this eternal life that we have already been given. I want them to see it lived in me as I strive to reflect Jesus. However, I am only a piece of the body (1 Corinthians 12:14,27). I can never show them the fullness of Christ on my own. I am flawed, and if I am the only mold they have, they will reflect my flaws. Paul beautifully describes the temple that we are all being built into with Jesus Christ as our Cornerstone “in whom the entire building, tightly framed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22). This is the place I want my children to grow! I want them to grow and learn where the Lord is, where He can mold them and shape them into a dwelling place of God through His Spirit!

The world is fallen and is such a difficult place to raise godly children, but thank God, He has given us a better place! We have all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Perhaps there is more truth in this than we have been trained to think. There are so many pressures as moms to get everything right, to be everything your child/children need, to hold it all together, to do it all alone and not ask for help. But, ladies, Jesus is the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and He is represented here on this earth as resting in a temple made up of many believers. How can we ever expect to fully represent Him with only ourselves? Paul continues to talk about the believers in Laodicea and says he wants their hearts to be “knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). We can’t give them true assurance and understanding of God until they see it through our love for one another (John 13:35). I have strengths that I want to pass on to my children, but I also see so many strengths in my children’s village that I would like to be passed on to them as well. I would love for them to have my faithfulness, my husband’s diligence in searching for the truth and righteousness, Katy’s loyalty and enthusiasm for God’s work, Sarah’s patience, Brittany’s kindness, Aunt Carrie’s thoughtfulness, Jerica’s zeal for learning more about God, Alex’s devotion to the Lord’s work, Josh’s and Stefanie’s passion and dedication to the body, and Kim’s and Jeff’s trust and hope in the Lord. There are so many other faithful people they are surrounded by who love them and lead them that I could not name them all. Even if I had all of these characteristics myself (God knows I don’t), how much greater will it impact them to see these qualities in so many familiar faces around them?

I have strengths that I want to pass on to my children, but I also see so many strengths in my children’s village that I would like to be passed on to them as well. Click To Tweet

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is one of my favorite passages depicting a godly woman, a model for me and other women to strive for. Sometimes reading through, her example seems nearly impossible to reach, but embedded into the text, we see her village that helps her make everything possible. Clearly, she has her husband, but she also lives in community with her household (which was likely more than just her husband and children)—maidens, merchants, the poor and needy, and her children. She relied on and allowed others to help her provide for her family and in doing so, she provided for not only her family but other families as well, setting an example of and becoming a part of the great love Jesus would display as He humbled himself, even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).

Acknowledging Jesus’s village is not the entirety of raising my children with an eternal perspective, but it would be terribly hard for them to understand the Kingdom of Heaven if they can’t experience it now on earth through a local group of believers.

If you live in Starkville and don’t have a village with whom to raise your children in the Lord, please join us in His work, growing together, learning together, and listening for guidance from the Holy Spirit. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, thought many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Come be one with us! Send us a message. We would love to connect with you.

More to come in Part 2.

Declaring Independence from the United States of America

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 

On July 2nd, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to separate the 13 colonies from Great Britain. Penned by Thomas Jefferson, the words above make up the preamble to the Declaration of Independence which was signed on July 4th, 1776 and adopted on August 2nd. There is a long historical debate about when the colonists began to see themselves as independent from Great Britain which I won’t hash out here, but for many of the members of the Continental Congress the idea of actual independence was a new and radical idea. For many reading this blog, what follows may be as equally a radical idea as separating from Great Britain, but God called and continues to call for the citizens of his Kingdom to be radically different from the World. God calls us to be Citizens of his Kingdom, not citizens of the United States of America. 

Especially in the Southern United States, being a Christian is intertwined with being a patriot. In fact growing up, the hymn book I sang out of had patriotic songs in the back. Or think about how most churches have an American flag somewhere close to or insight of the pulpit. This connection also works the other way. The Pledge of Allegiance has the phrase “One Nation, Under God” and U.S. currency has the phrase “In God We Trust.” That being a Christian is to be an American is so ingrained in our culture that many Christians will call the United States a “Christian Nation.” As both a Christian and a historian I am here to tell you that the United States is not nor has never been a Christian nation. The idea that the United States is a Christian nation is only about 70 years old and was created as a piece of propaganda during the Cold War as a way to make the United States seem like the “good” guy against the atheistic “bad” guy the Soviet Union. The harsh truth is the United States is part of the “Powers and Principalities” (Ephesians 6:12) of this world and as such will pass away (1 John 2:17). 

Furthermore, living an American life is the antithesis of living a life for the Kingdom. After the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the colonies were separating from Great Britain in part so the colonists could secure the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In their American context, all three of these ideas stand opposed to our Kingdom mission. The first is the easiest to explain. As Christians our life is not our own, but to God. Therefore, if we fight to save our life from the powers of this world, we will accomplish nothing but losing it. (Luke 9:24). Yet if we lose our life in service of the Kingdom, then we have gained it. Similarly, as a Christian there is really no true freedom. We are either slaves to sin (i.e. the world) or slaves to righteousness (i.e. the Kingdom of God) (Romans 8:15-18). However, being a citizen of the Kingdom means we are free to become like any and all people so that we may reach as many people as possible (1 Corinthians 9).   

Lastly, the Continental Congress wanted to separate from Great Britain so that Americans could pursue happiness. In today’s climate happiness is often equated with comfort. The American ethos is work hard so you can buy stuff that makes you comfortable and happy. In fact, there are some that have married the idea of being a Christian and being wealthy into “the Prosperity Gospel” which is as false a teaching as someone could preach about the Gospel. But as Christians we are not called to be happy in the world, rather we are called to take joy in the Kingdom. Think about how often you have heard someone say I have worked hard for my stuff. While undoubtedly true, as members of the Kingdom we actually don’t own anything. Anything and everything we have is to be used for the Kingdom and by the Kingdom, because anything we have we must treat as if we are just borrowing it. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31) (Acts 4:32-35). To be clear, this does not mean we have to sell everything we own and go live in the desert and live off of honey and locust. What it means is that everything we have and do must be centered towards building the kingdom. And to put a bow on this thought, Jesus in Matthew 6:24 during the Sermon on the Mount said “”No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Now in this passage the other master that Jesus referenced is money, and not an earthly kingdom, yet the lesson is clear. In terms of priority, God and his kingdom is first, and there is no second. 

In terms of priority, God and his kingdom is first, and there is no second. Click To Tweet

Just like treasure we store up for ourselves on earth will pass away (Matthew 6:19-21), so to will the Kingdoms of this world including the United States. In Daniel Chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had a dream. In this dream, he sees a giant statue with a head of gold, torso and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and its feet a mix of iron and clay. In this dream a rock not made of human hands smashes the statue and then the rock grows until it covers the earth. Daniel revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom was the head of gold, and the rest of the statue were going to be the kingdoms that came after his. The rock was the Kingdom of God, which will smash the kingdoms of the world and set up an everlasting Kingdom on the new Earth. (Daniel 2, Revelation 21-22). The United States is represented somewhere on that statue and as humans we can either be a part of the everlasting Rock, or a part of the destroyed statue. 

Now, at this point you might say that Paul was a citizen of the Roman Empire and he said we have to submit to whatever authority we live under (Romans 13). To that I would say that submission to the powers and principalities of this world is not the same submission that we have to Christ. We are called to abide by the rules of the authorities so long as it does not interfere with our Kingdom mission. Note that the same Paul who said we should submit to the rulers and pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-3) is also the same Paul who was arrested countless times by the rulers and authorities for preaching the gospel. What Paul meant, at least in my Kingdom centered interpretation of these passages, is it doesn’t matter what authority in the world you happen to live under give unto them what is theirs, like taxes, but don’t get caught up in the world. Paul used his Roman citizenship insofar as to use it to spread the gospel, but he considered his Roman citizenship and everything else he had or knew “garbage so that I might gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). This was one of the most important lessons the Jewish followers of Jesus had to learn. For centuries, they had been waiting for David 2.0. An earthly king who would reestablish the Davidic kingdom of Israel on Earth and overthrow the Roman Empire, or at least kick them out of Palestine. Yet, Jesus made clear his kingdom is not of this world. As Christians we are called to live out God’s picture of His Kingdom here on Earth regardless of where we live. 

Jesus is often called the Prince of Peace, and rightly so, for citizens of the Kingdom his yoke is easy and his burden light (Mathew 11:30). But for those outside of the Kingdom, there will be no peace. Even among biological families Jesus said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37). How much more unworthy are we of Jesus if we love the country we live in more than Jesus. Therefore, to fully live out our Kingdom mission we must spiritually revoke our citizenship from the world, divest ourselves from its cares and concerns and declare our Independence from the United States of America. 

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Bandwagon Fans…

“…These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat…” – Matthew 20:12 

Is there anyone that gets more sideways looks than a bandwagon fan? All along they mocked your team. They knew during that loss early in the season that you were a fool for wearing that jersey. They’d never cheer for that team. Then it happens. The season is almost done, everyone knows your team is going to win it all. Just like that, your coworker is your team’s biggest fan. He didn’t put in any effort to cheer them through the season. He wasn’t sweating bullets during that crazy overtime finish that sealed the spot in the playoffs. He didn’t sow any of the seeds, and now he’s trying to be part of reaping the harvest. Now that it’s widely accepted, he’s happy to join in.   

Isn’t that exactly the feeling of some of the workers in the vineyard in Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 20:1-16? The first group started working early that day. They knew what they agreed to work for and got started immediately. Others were added shortly thereafter—they worked most of the day and shared much of the hard labor; sweating for hours under the blazing sun. More were added later, some even added with just one hour left in the work day. How could they be paid the same wage as those who’d been working all day long? It wasn’t even that hot anymore. Where is their sweat equity? How is that fair?   

How is anything we’ve been given from God “fair”? What do we truly deserve? Death—we deserve to die in our sins (Romans 6:23). For God to be fair with us is something that we really don’t want. His only son was sent to die a horrendous death for sins he didn’t commit. Talk about something that isn’t fair… What grace and mercy God’s followers have been shown! We know the great love of God because we’ve experienced it. We know the price that was paid for us. We should be thrilled to share that gift with someone else, even up to the very last second of our work in the vineyard. 

See, those early workers misjudged the attitudes of those last-hour additions. They weren’t relishing in the fact that they got paid the same wage for a fraction of the work. They knew they were blessed to be given a position in the vineyard, and they put in as much hard labor as the remainder of the day allowed. They simply weren’t aware that the vineyard was hiring (Matthew 20:7). They didn’t hear the call to join the work until that final hour. If they had recognized or been given the opportunity earlier, they would have jumped at the chance. 

The fact is, not everyone is going to recognize the Kingdom or it’s worth right off the bat. Many won’t. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. It doesn’t come with the bells and whistles with which the world defines a powerful and attractive empire. It starts off as something as unassuming as a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds (Matthew 13:31-32). Who wants to join the team that appears so small and insignificant? How does something like that stand a chance? What impact could it possibly have on the world around it? Won’t it always be outnumbered, overpowered, and destined to fail?  

Nope. That upside-down, unassuming kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is everlasting, and it will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14). God wins! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24: “Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Those authorities that seem to the world almighty and indestructible will be crushed by the eternal Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:31-45). That tiny mustard seed actually grows into the biggest plant in the garden, towering over everything else that was planted.   

Wouldn’t you want to be in on that from the beginning, before it’s widely known and accepted? Part of the joy of a championship win is experiencing every turn it took to get there. You may have even played a role (albeit possibly only very small) in the overall effort. There’s a cost to following through all the way to the end, of course, including being ridiculed after that one embarrassing loss. But you’re happy you paid it in the end. Sharing in that final victory is more than worth it. The longer you’d been a fan, the more pain you experienced during those dark seasons—that just translates to more joy and reward when that great victory is finally realized. A bandwagoner just can’t really share in that, can they? 

Jesus’ first disciples had an awesome opportunity to be part of something special from the very beginning. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to earth (Mark 1:15). His mission was to proclaim that Kingdom (Luke 4:43; 8:1). He commissioned His disciples to proclaim it to the world around them, perhaps even before they had a full grasp of it themselves (Luke 10:1-12). The gospel of the Kingdom was proclaimed boldly during the few years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He commissioned more of His disciples to assume their role in the Kingdom by continuing to proclaim it boldly to the world as He ascended to His throne in Heaven (Matthew 28:19-20).   

Even today, there’s an important role to be played in God’s Kingdom, as we grow ever closer to the end of life on earth as we know it (Romans 13:11). Kingdom people are still His ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). He chose imperfect people, “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7), to hold that treasure and display it to the world. The cost? Your life on earth, however much is left. The spoils of victory? Eternal life with God in the eternal Kingdom (Matthew 16:24-25; Galatians 2:20). What an uneven trade… 

Despite any widespread proclamation of the final victory, there will be people that only realize who wins after the season is over. They won’t have the chance to represent those colors, but they will ultimately recognize who the true champion is. As Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:10-11): “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” Widely accepted by all in the end, because it is the ultimate truth that many simply deny.   

What should Kingdom people’s response to that fact be? We should be rooting for bandwagoners! We should be proclaiming the Kingdom as God’s ambassadors until the final whistle blows. There is room at the victory celebration. God is patient, and God is gracious (2 Peter 3:9). Our mission is to display the Kingdom, where the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 20:8,16; Matthew 19:30; Luke 13:30). We proclaim God’s eternal victory so that as many people as possible might join us working in the vineyard, regardless of how much time might be left in the workday. Any distractions from our mission may mean less potential bandwagoners get the message in time to make the choice to jump on board. After all, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). The Kingdom needs workers for the harvest, even those that are jumping on the bandwagon—because in reality, isn’t that what we’re all doing these days?   

Today, those imperfect jars of clay that God has entrusted the treasure of His Kingdom with are people who at some point in their lives realize what Jesus ushered into the world 2,000 years ago. Bandwagoners that missed the part before the truth was revealed in full. Missed the part before we could hold the full revelation of Scripture in our hands. There was a time when the Holy Spirit was yet to be granted as a gift to live within the believer—we missed that part. We missed the part where our Savior would be nailed to the cross while the world mocked His followers who had proclaimed that He was the Son of God. “Some king,” the world thought. Some King, indeed.   

The end is written; we know how the story ends. God wins. No, we aren’t bandwagoners in the sense of an insincere allegiance. The Kingdom has no place for that (Luke 9:62). We are simply late to the party. Just like the workers who were hired late in the day, it is not necessarily any fault of our own. We have an awesome God who is offering us the same wage as those disciples who have gone before us—eternity with Him in His eternal Kingdom (Romans 6:23). We have the luxury of knowing the end before we begin. Jump on the bandwagon with me, and let’s look for others! 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17

-Chris