Friday, July 28, 2006

Kingdom of God Part 1

Wow! It's been a long time since I posted something. I have just been going some different directions, but I have had alot of things that I have wanted to blog about. Something that I have been giving alot of thought to lately is the idea of the Kingdom of God. I have been trying to understand what it is and how it is different from the kingdoms of this world.

First of all, I would like to say that I have come to the conclusion that the Kingdom of God is not a far-off place that believers in Jesus will go to when they die. This is the idea that I had for many years, but it just doesn't seem to hold water for me anymore. Why would Jesus say things like "the Kingdom of God is near" and "the Kingdom of God is within you" if He was speaking of a "land far far away"? Jesus had some interesting things to say about the Kingdom of God such as:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
Luke 17:20-21 NIV

Wow! It sure doesn't sound like the Kingdom of God is a "place" so to speak. This would mean that the Kingdom is not confined by time and space barriers. The Kingdom of God can be "near" for one person, and at the same time "within" another. As heirs of the Enlightenment, we like to confine things to spatial dimensions that can be experienced through the five senses. That is why it is so easy to speak of the Kingdom of God as "heaven"--a "place" believers in Jesus go when they die. Could it be that heaven is not far from any one of us? Could it be that heaven is not a far-off place, but rather a dimension that is separate from and yet simultaeneously intersecting our world? Hmm.

At this point, let me go off on a bit of a tangent. Could it be that because we have looked at the Kingdom of God as a "place" to endeavor to go and not a present reality to be experienced, we have tried to squeeze the operation of the Kingdom of God into conformity with the kingdoms of this world? For example, since the kingdoms of the world advance through force, have we tried to advance God's Kingdom in the same way? Sure the Crusades are one horrific example, but could it be that they are merely one among many examples?

It seems to me that many times believers in Jesus try to advance God's Kingdom using the tactics of the world. Oh, we might not put a sword to someone's throat as coercion to conversion, but we will gladly slice and dice them up using the latest findings from Christian apologists. It seems that we will gladly make unbelievers look and feel stupid in order to "win" them to the Lord. Maybe we are winning the argument, but are we in the process losing the person? Hmm.

Another way in which we imitate the kingdoms of this world is in our power structures.

25 Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves".
Luke 22:25-26 NIV

Jesus here says that His Kingdom is not going to be like the kingdoms of this world. "The kings of the Gentiles" used there power to keep their people under control, but in their minds, it was for the people's own good (thus the title "Benefactors"). They set the rules, and the people had to follow. Doesn't this sound alot like your average pastor? While calling him/herself a "Benefactor" (ie. "I'm doing this for your good") they set themselves up as a "covering" for the sheep. A member is told that he/she is only safe under the covering of the local church which includes the headship of the pastor. This seems a far cry from what Jesus had in mind--"But you are not to be like that". While trying to imitate corporate America, has the Church become too efficient? It seems that we are more interested in growth than in people. Oh sure, we know the right things to say "We want to reach the lost", "Let's bring God's love to our community", but at the end of the day, are we really concerned about individual people? If so, why don't we invest more in the people that God has brought across our paths instead of looking for "more". Whose kingdom are we really expanding?

A final way that I believe we try in error to advance the Kingdom of God is through politics. It seems to me that Christians have at many times tried to impose "God's will" on others through the ballot box and through political parties. I believe that we have been guilty many times of expecting unbelievers to act like believers. One "hot potato" right now is the possible legalization of gay marriage. Many Christians are fighting legalized gay marriage tooth and nail. Many ministers have said that the idea of gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage itself. Really? Who instituted marriage; God or the state? Is my marriage only valid because I have a document from the state of North Carolina? Would my marriage somehow be in jeopardy if my state legalized gay marriage? I think not. Could it be that while many gay couples are holding out for the legalization of gay marriage, if allowed to marry, many would find that it did not bring about the fulfillment that they thought it would? Could it then be the beginning of the disillusionment of many a gay couple and thus result in a more genuine openness to the Source of true fulfillment, Jesus Christ? Hmm.

I don't know all of the answers. In all honesty, I'm not completely satisfied even with this post. But, I do know that "love never fails". While my arguments for the resurrection of Christ may prove weighty and yet I see someone turn away from Jesus, "love never fails". While I can run "my" church like a well-oiled machine and still be dissatisfied and see "my" people be dissatisfied, "love never fails". I can legislate the morality of the entire world while watching unbelievers grow more embittered against the Body of Christ, but "love never fails". Could it be that we have overestimated the power of fleshly ideas to change the hearts of people, while underestimating the power of God's love shown through believers corporately, and individually to accomplish the same purpose? What do you think?


Steve Sensenig said...

Well, you stole some of my thunder on a post that I've had saved as a draft for several days now ;) hehe

But in all seriousness, I think you have really illustrated some of the problems of misunderstanding the Kingdom of God.

Years ago, CCM artist Morgan Cryer had a great song called "Kingdom Upside Down" in which he sang about the apparent "opposites" of the Kingdom of God. Jesus made these points very clear, too, often contrasting the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world.

Great reminder, Raborn. Thanks for this post!

steve :)

Raborn Johnson said...

Steve, sorry to steal your thunder! I would have to say that much of the material in my posts comes as a direct result of our conversations over sausage and gravy biscuits:)MmmmMmmm You are a catalyst in my walk with God and I appreciate it so much!

I think that the Church has invested much of it's resources into fool's gold; something that seems to be valuable and yet is eventually shown to be a waste of precious time and energy. I am thankful that believers are concerned when they see the rampant nature of sin in our society, but sometimes I wonder why we are concerned. Are we concerned because it somehow offends us or intrudes on our idea of an "ideal" nation? Or, are we concerned for the destruction and pain that it brings into that person's life? I believe that it needs to be the latter. We, as the Church, need to stop professing love to the world and actually show some.

An example from my own life:
About 6-8 years ago, I used to go out with a friend every Monday night to witness to non-believers about Jesus. I told many people that I encountered that the reason that I was sharing Jesus with them was because I loved them. In retrospect (and even really at the time), I would honestly have to say that my motivation was not love at all. Rather, it was to appease my conscience, and make me feel like I had "done my duty for God". Not only is this a wrong motivation, but people can see right through it.

When our hearts break, not for what "sinners" are doing to "our" society, but instead, for what they are doing to themselves, real change will not be far behind! The Kingdom of God will not often be established in the hearts of people through persuasive arguments, thought-out legislations or even solid creedal statements. Instead, the Kingdom of God advances where the love of God is expressed and embraced!

Anonymous said...

Brother Raborn, I've heard you preach and it gave me hope; the kind of hope that heals. Now, I've read some of your writings, and I have found a spring to drink from that feeds me after the beatings to put God in a box. I believe I understand you to be saying in this message that "laws" will not bring the kingdom of God closer to us but a sincere interest in the pain and suffering of the broken hearted will. Your writing is a gift Raborn. I know God has plans for you to reach more hearts. I just praise Him for leading you to share with others your personal relationship with Him. He is talking to us by your writings. You are not saying anything new; you're just explaining things to help us better understand the "red" letters of our beloved Bible. I will continue to drink from this fountain for it encourages me to press on in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thank you. DB

Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks for your kind words.

I believe I understand you to be saying in this message that "laws" will not bring the kingdom of God closer to us but a sincere interest in the pain and suffering of the broken hearted will.

It is true that laws will not bring the Kingdom of God closer to us. But, I also believe that it is true that the Kingdom of God can't get much closer to us. As believers in Jesus, we are in the Kingdom now! It seems to me that we are trying to establish something by our own efforts that Jesus has already established! If the Kingdom of God is "within" us, why do we seem to pray to a "far-off" God?

Colossians 1:13-14
13 For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. 14 God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins.
New Living Translation