Kingdom First!

It was a political phrase which stood in complete opposition of the political parties in power. It was a phrase that was filled with so much meaning that those who would try to live it out would most likely lose their lives. There was one King in the World and his name was Caesar. There was one power center and it was in Rome. Anyone who disagreed with this belief or tried to usurp the authority of Rome would be crushed. No exceptions. Yet on a little hillside in Judea a young man named Jesus announced “kingdom first.” Matthew 6:33

Through the centuries we have watered down this statement which Jesus made about the Kingdom to mean something completely different than what it meant when Jesus said it. Jesus was not encouraging people to make their personal spiritual experiences a priority. As important as these experiences might be, Jesus had something even more revolutionary in mind. Jesus was announcing a new political power. Pastor and theologian Greg Boyd said that “Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdoms of the world.” What this meant on the practical side was this new kingdom was not concerned with promoting or necessarily helping the kingdoms of the World accomplish their purposes. Making Rome great was not the priority of a Kingdom first person. Kingdom first people were to make God great. Prior to the Roman emperor Constantine the church understood what Jesus meant on the Sermon on the Mount when he said seek first the kingdom. It took courage to be a Kingdom first Christians.

May Kingdom first be our battle cry. Although the affairs and rulers of the World are not our priority may we pray for the peace and tranquility of our communities. May we love all that God has placed before us. May we seek not to make our communities better but be the better communities so that we may attract people to a kingdom that is not fading but will last forever. The revolution has begun. The battle cry is kingdom first!

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Another Kingdom

Probably what the World needs is another blog site, right? It seems like wherever you turn someone has a blog or post about what they think and what they believe. Inherently there is probably nothing wrong with them. It is good for us as communities to share our thoughts and ideas with one another. Certainly sharing is something that we as a World can get better at doing. Many times we want everyone to hear us and in the market place of ideas we not only want them to hear, we want them to agree. When they do not agree we simply yell louder. My hope for this blog is not to get louder. What I envision is a journey. Everyone is on a journey. Some have an idea of where they are headed, others have an idea but are not sure how to get there, and than there are those who do not realize they have a journey and so they wander aimlessly. Some days I feel like I am in all three categories. Where I see my journey heading may be like the journey Bilbo described to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings when he said, “It is a dangerous business Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” This type of journey does not sounds very safe. Truthfully it is not. But this is the journey I have chosen.

I like to call this the journey that I am on a journey into “Another Kingdom.” The phrase Another Kingdom is one in which I came across from a book I read last year with a similar tittle called, An Other Kingdom by John McNight, Walter Brueggermann and Peter Block. As I read their book I could not get this phrase out of my mind because it depicted how I was shaping my life or maybe better yet how God was shaping my life. For years I lived out my Christian practice very much in the spiritual realm but not always in the physical realm. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom I immediately thought he meant the kingdom to come in heaven. So my “Jesus life” was wired to get myself to heaven and to get as many people as I could there as well. Now heaven is important and has it’s place but the more I read through the gospel accounts I realized that Jesus rarely talked about heaven. Most of his conversation was about a kingdom. Not a kingdom which would come hundreds of years later or even a kingdom which was up there in heaven. Jesus spoke about a very real and physical kingdom which was meant to be lived in the now. The fruits of this kingdom, its blessing and its rewards were mostly focussed in the now and not the later although some great blessing were yet to come. When I saw the kingdom as a “now” reality it occurred to me that Jesus kingdom was not the only kingdom. There are other kingdoms which exist. Jesus came into a World filled with kingdoms. Yet his kingdom was different. It was “Another Kingdom.” It was a kingdom which he said would continue to be more powerful while other kingdoms would fade. It’s power did not come through tanks and armies, but through the Holy Spirit and love. This kingdom was not simply meant to make other kingdoms nicer places to live but it was meant to be an alternative kingdom to all kingdoms which would eventually make this World a better place to live.

Another Kingdom is what I have put my hope in. It consumes much of my time and in some way it is what I want to write about as I go on this journey. I am blessed and fortunate to be able to share this journey not only with close friends and family but also with my local kingdom family Agape Christian Church. Let me simply close with this quote from John Nugent in his book Endangered Gospel. I hope you will be encouraged by it and reflect upon it as you seek to live for Another Kingdom.

“What then is the Kingdom? It is the fulfillment of Israels hopes. It is the reign of God over his people on behalf of all creation. It is the new world order that the prophets foretold. It is everything God’s people longed for, and more. It is Israels God intervening in World history to make a better place in this World”

More Than Belief

During my freshmen year of College at the University of Arizona I was approached by young man who belonged to one of the Christian Campus Ministries. He simply asked me one question. “Do you know where you going when you die? Of course, I knew of only one of two responses. Heaven or Hell. I responded by saying, “I hope Heaven.” This response was all he needed to know about where my eternal destiny laid. So, he then began sharing with me about how I could go to heaven. His whole belief was that there was nothing more important that God wanted from a person than they go to Heaven. The way to Heaven was by believing Jesus died for my sins and asking Jesus into my heart. So, I asked how one might put their belief in Jesus? He told me that I simply needed to pray the “sinner’s prayer” asking God to forgive me of my sins and telling Jesus that I now believed in Him. After saying the prayer, we both went away happy. He went away happy because he believed that the Kingdom gained another soul for heaven. I went away happy because I believed I was going to heaven because I said, “I believe in Jesus.” To celebrate this monumental occasion in my life I went and got drunk that night.

I applaud this stranger’s passion to want to see me go to heaven. Yet his presentation of what God wanted for my life was not only lacking but even dangerous to my eternal destiny. He believed that what Jesus wanted for my life was that I acknowledge him verbally. Now this is certainly true that Jesus wants us to believe in Him. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32) Yet we do not have to read too far into the Sermon on the Mount to realize that Jesus was not simply looking for an intellectual consent of his existence. The Sermon on the Mount proclaims loudly that Jesus actually expected his followers to have him reign in every area of their lives.

John Stott gives a beautiful picture of what this reign looks like in the follower of Jesus when he says, the “kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ. Such a desire will start with ourselves, until every single department of our life—home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, life-style, citizenship—is joyfully and freely submissive to Christ.” The whole message of the Sermon on the Mount pointed its listeners not simply to believe in Jesus, (although belief is the beginning point) but live in what Jesus believed and taught. Martin Luther coins it well when he says, “doctrine is a good and a precious thing, but it is not being preached for the sake of being heard but for the sake of action and its application to life.” To live out what Jesus taught would mean that one would join the new and exciting Kingdom God was starting.

Believing is important. It is the entrance into this new way of life, and this kingdom community. Yet believing is not an end to itself. Believing is a call to a new way to live life. A life where we have a king who has broken into World history and says follow me. This King and his Kingdom are exciting. Let me close with these words from the book “Endangered Gospel” by John Nugent as he describes this new reign by King Jesus.

“It is the reign of God over his people on behalf of all creation. It is the new world order that the prophets foretold. It is everything God’s people longed for, and more. It is Israel’s God intervening in world history to make a better place in this world.”

Getting ready for Heaven? No so fast!

If you ask what the most important thing is for a Christian we might respond by saying “getting saved so we can go to Heaven.” Certainly getting saved is highly important. It is the entry point into God’s kingdom. Unfortunately many Christians have misunderstood Jesus and what it means to follow him. Many believers after giving their life to Jesus are simply waiting for Jesus to return. While they wait they might seek to become a better person but their focus is on a future kingdom not a present one. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus way of saying Heaven is important but it is not the end of the World. In other words God did not save us just too simply wait around. His Kingdom has begun now. Jesus expects us to be about bringing his kingdom here on Earth. It is interesting that when we look at the life of Jesus, he says very little about Heaven. But he says tons about Earth. Even when we read the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” this does not mean some future event. It is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. It means that Jesus because of his death and Resurrection is now King of the Earth ruling from Heaven. So what does this mean as we read the Sermon on the Mount?

We have been sharing in our Revolution series that the Sermon on the Mount was meant to be a new community here on Earth. It was to be a community that had no allegiance to any worldly communities. Christians have one King and that is Jesus. Since we have one King we know that God wants us to live as Kingdom people not waiting to go to Heaven but seeking to bring Heaven on Earth. Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6:10 to pray in this manner. Pray that God’s will be done here on Earth as it is in Heaven. How can we honor God’s request of being Kingdom people now and not just in the future? Jesus gives example after example. Here are just a few.

Continually forgive people hurt you
Always seek to be a peacemaker in your family community and the World
Fight the urge to be angry and show love
Love enemies, this means all kinds
Fight for your marriage even if you think it is not worth fighting for
Show compassion by serving the “least of these” in society
Don’t judge people but love them regardless of who they are
Daily hunger for God

All of these instructions are “now things” which Jesus wants his Kingdom people to be living out in the present. Certainly we want to be excited about our future Hope when we have new resurrected bodies but Jesus wants us to get excited about his Kingdom now. The Revolution has begun! Let’s live it NOW

What Political Party Would Jesus Endorse Today?

I became a Christian in the late 80’s. Historically this was the time that the “Moral Majority” movement was in full swing. The moral majority was a reaction to what many religious and political leaders believed was the decline of the moral culture in America. Proof of this decline was the legalization of abortion and the removal of prayer from public schools. As a new Christian, I remember campaigns to educate churches on how to vote. Soon I assumed that if you were not Republican than you probably were not a Christian. Republicans defended the life of the unborn. I can remember many of my Christians friends puzzled on how anyone could be a Democrat and still be a Christian. In those early years of my Christian walk I was convinced that Jesus would certainly endorse those of the Republican Party. Right? Just as strongly as I felt Jesus would endorse Republicans over Democrats I have found Democrats who are convinced that Jesus would be on their side. Many of my Democrat friends believe that issues such as civil rights, the poor, and the underprivileged are people that Jesus would want to serve. Hence Jesus would certainly endorse those of their party.

So, who would Jesus endorse? Even though Christians for years have used their beliefs and influence to promote different candidates and political parties I believe that this question really is not a good question to ask. Here is why this is not a good question. Jesus himself was silent on the political matters of his day. Jesus seemed to show very little interest in who was running Rome and what policies they were enacting. Now to say Jesus was not political would not be right either. Jesus was very political. His politics though were focused on the Kingdom he was starting. When Jesus started preaching in what we know today as the Sermon on the Mount, his message was not a message for believers to leverage power to get things done in their home countries. Jesus was literally starting a new government. He was starting a Revolution! He would become their King and those who accepted this Kingdom would become his subjects. Jesus said to seek his Kingdom as top priority. He gave instructions on how to live within this new kingdom and how to treat one another. Jesus was not so much concerned that Rome obeyed his teaching as he was concerned that his community would obey his teaching. Jesus was not trying to make Rome a better place to live but wanted his people to know that the Kingdom was the better place.

Jesus is neither for the politics of the Republican party or the Democrat party. These parties belong to a fading World. Jesus is for his party, the Kingdom. The Kingdom was his new community of redeemed people. A new humanity who would live life according to what he taught on the Sermon on the Mount. Certainly, as followers of Jesus we can vote what we believe might be the best candidate for this fading World, but we must recognize that neither party stands for God. Ultimately no politician or political party will solve the World’s problems. Only Jesus has done that through his work on the cross as he restores all of humanity. Today I recognize that there are many godly people in different political parties. No party can encompass all that the Kingdom encompasses or promotes. Hence believers should respect and love other believers in different parties than the one they are in. They should learn and share from one another and ultimately only have allegiance to Jesus. What party does Jesus endorse? The answer is his party, the kingdom.

Concerned about Wholes not Just Souls

In the 2nd Century of the church there was a false doctrine being spread through the church called Gnosticism. At the heart of their teaching there was a belief that matter was evil and spirit was good. The effect this teaching had on the church was huge. One of the outcomes was that salvation was simply about saving a person’s inner soul, and that the physical body was actually evil. Gnostics would claim that true salvation comes by escaping your body and eventually escaping earth. Hence the highest form of Gnosticism was all about having personal inner spiritual experiences. The Gnostics basically said, forget this World and discover your inner reality.

This message was not the message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount was all about outward experiences not simply inward reflections. The Sermon on the Mount was not waiting to escape this World but how we might love and serve this World. The Sermon on the Mount was God saying I am reclaiming this World because it is good and it is my lovely creation. Whereas Gnosticism was about self-discovery, Jesus taught about redemption and forgiveness of the whole person. Jesus was just as concerned with how we lived in the outward as he was with the inward. Redemption of the whole person would show its fruit not in inner discovery but outward physical acts of the body. Jesus said blessed are the merciful. Jesus did not want us simply reflecting on mercy but actually showing it. Jesus also said to give to the needy and not judge others. Now it is super when we can memorize these two commands, but Jesus wanted us to practice these two commands. Jesus makes the point over and over about the concern for outward expressions of spirituality rather than finding your inner self. Jesus said do not lust, be a peacemaker, do not to allow your mind to worry about things God has under control. All of these show that Jesus wanted his followers to focus on the whole not just the soul.

In an age where people are looking for hope the church has an opportunity to show them the love of Christ. If we will truly live out the message of the Sermon on the Mount we will save both body and soul. We will find that spiritual fulfillment comes not as we look in, but by how we look out.

The Revolution has begun!

Imagine you were part of a revolution that was going to introduce a new society. This new society was guaranteed to outlast all previous and future societies. Unlike past World powers that may last a couple decades or even several hundred years, this new community would last for eternity. It would have no end. This revolution which would introduce this new community was not some hopeful utopian dream or even wishful thinking of what our World could become, it was in reality something that did happen through the death of Jesus on the cross.

For hundreds of years the prophets in the Old Testament prophesied about a coming King and a new Kingdom. When Jesus started his earthly ministry some of the first words out of his mouth was that this new kingdom was now near. It was not a kingdom that would begin hundreds of years later or even a kingdom that was only saved for Heaven. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom being near he was speaking of a kingdom that would begin on this present Earth. Jesus was starting a new community and he was the king. So what would this new community look like that was different than all other communities and World powers? It would look like the Sermon on the Mount.

Over the next couple months our Agape family will be pouring into this famous sermon by Jesus. Our goal is not to simply read through Matthew Chapters 5-7 so that we can mark it off as another tasked completed. Our goal is to be more like the Kingdom Jesus called us to on Earth. The plan for us is that Jesus words might become real and practical in our lives. We want to understand both from the head and the heart which leads to the feet. Let me encourage you to take your time as you work through this message. Write things down. Spend time meditating. Ask God for help when you do not understand something. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you in areas where you fall short and where you need to repent. Finally make sure to share with others in your Agape family as you go through this journey. God wants to transform us. We are the new community that will last forever. The revolution has begun!

“Jesus was not just a moralist whose teachings had some moral implications; he was not primarily a teacher of spirituality whose public ministry unfortunately was seen in a political light; he was not just a sacrificial lamb preparing for his immolation, or a God-Man whose divine status calls us to disregard his humanity. Jesus was, in his divinely mandated ( i.e… promised, anointed, messianic) prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social, and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share.”
John Howard Yoder