Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Of God's Kingdom

OK, OK, I know. A blog is meant for blogging. I plan to do a better job. Here is the last post of my series on Littleton's vision. I've got some things on the horizon, so check back.

Of God's Kingdom.

I've grown up in a world of practical atheism. No, my parents didn't brainwash to believe God wasn't active in the world! No, my private school education was not a surreptitious attempt to steal faith from the next generation. No, our Church of Christ was not a radical group with deistic tendencies.

What I mean is, I was slowly, through the use of propaganda, brought to the place where I believed God didn't interact in the world. Sure, I prayed and was taught to pray. But when it really (and I mean REALLY) came down to it, I believed God didn't interact in the world. More on that in a minute.

In the first century, there were four main groups of Jews. The Pharisees, the Herodians, the Essenes, and the Zealots. Each of these groups lived during a time when the Roman Empire had its boot on their necks. They were all asking one major question: How is God going to liberate us? They all had different answers to that question.

The Pharisees believed that a recommitment to the morality of God's law would secure their freedom. They thought, "If we could perfect our lives in concert with Torah, God will send a liberator to free us from the Romans."

The Herodians took a different viewpoint. They were the political realists of their day. They thought, "No one can defeat the Romans, so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." So they bowed down to Caesar and tried to use the political system to bring change.

The Essenes were the Amish of a previous time. They sought to leave the evil of the city by moving out into the wilderness to create a "holy ghetto" away from the world.

The Zealots were violent revolutionaries who hoped God would support them in their zealous attempt to overthrow Rome. They got their guns, tanks, and planes and were ready to go to war. Their hero was King David and they were ready to go slay Goliath (Rome).

Today, we can still see similarities between these groups and current day attempts to ask the question, "How will God liberate us?" We, in Churches of Christ, know about the Pharisees. We know all too well about those who seek to use politics in order to make God's kingdom tangible among us today. "Holy ghettos" still pop up on our religious landscape. And violence is still a means some religious people think of using to advance God's kingdom.

But one look at the life of Jesus shows that he doesn't join any of these ideologies. Instead of joining the Pharisees, Herodians, Essenes, or Zealots, he came declaring a new kingdom that has nothing to do with any of these groups. He announces the kingdom of God on the earth. He prays for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.

The kingdom has been misinterpreted so many times throughout history. It's been equated with the church. We've seen it as something that we build. At times, it's even been an earthly political kingdom (which is so antithetical to the life of Jesus).

But the kingdom of God that Jesus announced rejects the ways of the world. It lays down power rather than taking it up. It lays down the sword rather than using it to advance itself. Through the kingdom, Jesus is inviting us into a better way of being human than we've lived out before. The kingdom of God is an alternative to the ways of the Empire.

Now, what does this kingdom business have to do with growing up in a world of practical atheism? I'm glad you asked.

I'm amazed how much of my life and ministry could be done without God. Have you ever asked yourself the question, "What huge kingdom dreams am I currently a part of that I couldn't possibly do without God stepping in?" What plans are you making that are so big that God would have to step in to make those plans a reality? We live such puny lives because many of us have become practical atheists who don't even need God in order to live our lives.

Other than your salvation, how would your life be any different if God wasn't actually in your life?

I'm amazed how often my thinking is so small because I don't believe God is going to do anything. It's all on my shoulders, so I get desperate and act in ways that are inconsistent with the way of Jesus.

Every sin is an act committed (or omitted) because we don't believe God can step in and give us a better life. We're practical atheists. Every act of violence occurs because we've lost the imagination that God might step into our world.

At Littleton, we want to pattern our lives after the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world. So, we're building an imagination again about what God can do. We're trusting in the ways of the kingdom found in Matthew 5-7. It's a journey, but it's better than practical atheism.

The kingdom of God is about radical trust and belief in a God who inaugurated his reign in Jesus Christ and who will bring his reign to fullness in the new heavens and the new earth. Come, Lord Jesus.

May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!