Continued from Part One.
Ok, so I guess I bit off quite a bit yesterday with Part One. Several people have sent me messages saying, “I’m looking forward to Part Two…” and I replied, “So am I!”
I didn’t know exactly what to write, and I expected it would take a while to collect my thoughts. But today when I sat down at my keyboard, this came out. It’s very hard to summarize something as grand as the Gospel of the Kingdom in a short blog post, but I think this does a respectable job. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to read my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is the overarching message of Scripture, spanning from beginning to end, and encompassing all points in between. It is the back-story of creation – encapsulating God’s original intent and grand plan – and the truth that He most desires for us to grasp. It is the great, unifying reality of the Bible, tying up every “loose end” and perceived “contradiction.” And it is the only foundational message with the innate power to finally unify the Body of Christ and lead Her to global pre-eminence.
To understand this message, we must first understand the original Greek word which we translate as Kingdom. The word is BASILEIA, and it means “royal power, kingship, dominion and rule.” It is not a physical place so much as an order, a way, an empire. The word does not refer simply to “heaven,” but to all beings and things – eternal and temporal – that are under the royal power of the King
God created creation for one purpose, and that is to raise eternal offspring to inherit His eternal Kingdom. All of time and space sit in front of His throne as an incubator of sorts. He engineered this world as the perfect environment for cultivating a crop of sons and daughters with the character necessary to rule with Him in eternity. This place is so fertile, in fact, that the Bible says Christ Himself grew in obedience, wisdom and stature through His experiences here. If He who was perfect can benefit from this life, how much more can we? Everything in our world, and all our life experiences, boil down to this one underlying purpose: God is working to groom His sons and daughters for their eternal destiny.
Our Father cast satan and his rebellious followers to this environment to advance this purpose. Our created, defeated, and defanged enemy did not sneak into the garden, or pull one over on God. He would not be much of a God if satan could do that! Similarly, the war for this world is not against God and the devil. God’s crushing defeat of the rebellious angels was immediate and absolute, and never in question. No, the war is against us and the devil. So why are we stuck here with a fierce, powerful, and hateful enemy? Not so he can beat us up and punish us, but the other way around. Like a mother lion dragging a crippled, wounded rabbit to her cubs for their training, our loving Father has cast the enemy here so we can learn and grow by fighting against and defeating him, and this is to his ultimate punishment and humiliation. In Christ, our power over the enemy is absolute, and we have nothing to fear. Indeed, the devil’s greatest fear is God’s sons and daughters realizing their true identity and power.
The adolescent Jesus told His earthly parents that He must be about His Father’s business. He knew why He was here, and it was His all-consuming passion. His Father is ours, too, and we should similarly be about His business. His business is our divine training program, designed to prepare us for our eternal inheritance. This is not haphazard or mysterious, but clearly spelled out for us starting with the very first words God spoke to Adam: “Go and establish dominion…”
Establishing God’s dominion – expanding His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, conquering the enemy and bringing every person and thing on the planet into His loving empire – is our purpose and destiny here on Earth, and it is directly tied to our eternal inheritance. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus says seven times in a row that “he who conquers…” will receive every piece of our eternal inheritance. Later, in the next to the last chapter of the Bible, it says point-blank that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” We are here to be prepared for our inheritance, and our inheritance is tied to the act of conquering the world for Christ – establishing His dominion, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
God’s grand plan and purpose for creation and mankind is made more clear by the fact the Bible says repeatedly it is the completion of this task that will trigger the end of the world as we know it. Jesus said in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that when the sons and daughters of the Kingdom reach maturity, the Father will gather them in harvest, and that will be the end. Seven separate times, the Bible says Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, waiting till His enemies are brought under His feet. (Contrary to modern pop-theology/mythology, Jesus will not grow tired of waiting, get up, and come finish the job for us!) The Apostle Paul wrote that God will continue to give spiritual gifts to men until the Body of Christ reaches the full stature of Christ on earth, and only then will Christ return. The full coming of God’s Kingdom, through our hands, on earth as it is in Heaven, is inevitable, in one generation or the next. “Nobody knows the day or the hour,” because God has put it in our hands – for our training – and we have free will.
The Kingdom of God is not a theocracy or man-made “church” system. God is love, and therefore the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Love. The Bible says, “the Kingdom of God is within you,” and that it is “peace, joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit.” The Kingdom of God is advanced through personal relationships and discipleship, by bringing people, one-by-one, into a right relationship with their Father through Jesus Christ.
As much as He desires this to happen, God will not directly intervene in this, as it would undermine His entire purpose of training His sons and daughters. Instead, He has constrained Himself to working through people to accomplish His goals. This has been the hallmark of creation from the very beginning: all things were made through the man Jesus Christ, just as salvation came through Him. God didn’t just snap His proverbial fingers; instead He instructed and empowered His firstborn Son to do the work. The same power is available to us, Jesus’s eternal brothers and sisters, when we follow our Father’s step-by-step instructions.
There is nothing we can do in our own strength or understanding to advance God’s Kingdom. Instead, God has sent His Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, words and actions. His full power, provision and protection are fully available to us only when we, like Christ, do only those things that our Father instructs us. (The sword of the Spirit, Paul said, is the Rhema – personal, intimate, spoken – Word of God to us, which guides our path, step-by-step.) When I function this way – that is, when it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me – nothing can stand in my way. The Christ in me can defeat every demon, heal every sickness, pull down every stronghold of the enemy, and demolish anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. When we all grow in maturity to function this way – which is inevitable, someday – we will walk in global unity, peace, power, health and wholeness, and then the end will come.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood, and yet it is a very real war. The enemy, too, is constrained to working through people, and he does so with fierce brutality. Many have been and will be martyred for the cause. Enduring through the trials and battles of this life requires that we view things from the perspective of eternity. Every person has a choice. Will we live to satisfy our mind and body in this world – seeking our best life now – or will we instead advance God’s Kingdom at all costs, realizing that our best life is yet to come? We cannot do both.
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the Word of God meaningless. The Kingdom of God is ancient and eternal, yet always fresh and new. The Gospel of the Kingdom, Jesus said, is like new wine which can’t be held in an old wineskin, or unshrunk cloth that should never be stitched into an old garment. While it is the oldest truth we can ever grasp, it will never fit comfortably into our traditional “theology” or established “church” organizations. Its very essence is disquieting, as it continually calls us beyond the status quo.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
It’s good to pay close attention to the metaphors God chooses. God’s Word is always deep and multifaceted, and word associations He uses aren’t thrown into Scripture simply out of artistic license. When He says, for example, “Consider the ant…” in Proverbs, we really should. Fact is, He made ants (and everything else) and gave them the the traits they have, to serve as an expression of Himself and His truth. We can know Him, ourselves, and our plight more deeply if we study these things in depth.
One God-given metaphor that’s been in my mind lately is where He says that He’s raising us to be “oaks of righteousness.” This metaphor is jam-packed with meaning, and today I’m going to dig into just one facet of it.
When you cut down a tree and look inside, we all know that you’ll find it contains ring after ring of growth. Look closely at these rings, and you’ll see they alternate between thicker, lighter-colored rings and thinner, darker colored ones.
A while back, I studied how to make a bow (as in archery) out of a single piece of wood. For a bow, it’s not the shape that matters so much as it is being mindful of the growth rings. Whittle a stiff piece of wood to the shape of a bow and ignore the rings, put a string on it, and pull it back, and it’ll most likely snap in two. However, if you shave it down according to the internal ring structure, so that the face of the bow is one contiguous ring (one of the thin, dark ones specifically) from tip to tip, you can flex it all you want and it won’t break. That’s because the dense growth rings are strongest part of a tree.
You see, the growth rings in a tree reflect the changing seasons. When external conditions are seemingly ideal, and the tree shows all the outward signs of life, this is when the thick, weak rings are formed. The thin, strong rings grow during the harsh, dry seasons. While it may seem on the outside that the tree is dormant or dead, it is in reality gaining the inner strength it needs to withstand the greatest stress and fiercest storms.
Oaks grow slowly, and strong. And, according to His Word, God is growing us the same way.
When we understand this, and start seeing our lives from God’s perspective, it is easier to rejoice when we face harsh, dry seasons. During our Christian walk, we all face them; it’s part of God’s plan. God is growing strong, seasoned sons and daugthers to inherit His Kingdom!
I wrote the following bit a many years ago during a dry spell, and just stumbled across it yesterday. Somehow it seemed particularly relevant to the season many of us are in right now. I hope it blesses you.
LESSONS FOR THE LEAN TIMES
Quoting the Bible is easy, especially when you’re giving advice to others. Even quoting it to yourself can be easy. Now living it … well, that can be another story entirely, right?
I mean, when Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, drink or wear … Don’t worry about tomorrow…,” He didn’t really mean for us to literally not worry about these things, did He? Was He really speaking to me, as the head of my household, with a mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc.? Does He really expect us to do this, even in a down economy?
My friends, the answer to each of these is simple: Yes.
God is real and His promises are true. No matter how complicated our economic system. No matter who we are, or where we are, or how much we make (or used to make!).
The Lord has blessed me by leading me through some very difficult times. Yes, I said blessed! Blessed because, as the Bible says, it’s through trials that He builds our faith, and through fire that He purifies us. I personally desire greater faith and purity much more than I desire a bigger TV or house. Not that they always conflict, but if I had to choose, I’d pick a closer walk with Him over material things any day. Wouldn’t you?
I also consider it a blessing to go through tough times because later it allows me the opportunity to help others who are going through the same types of challenges. If someone can stand on my shoulders, and not have to go to the depths I’ve had to go, I’d consider my hardships to be worthwhile.
Right now I know many folks are facing some tough challenges, and I’d like to encourage you to seek God through it all. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in faith and purity!
Here are some keys I’ve found for thriving in the lean times:
Rejoice! This is an opportunity to learn and grow. God cares about YOU, not about your things! Let your heightened sense of awareness drive you to His word and to prayer. When you pray, remember His divine guidance and provision are already yours for the taking! He promises them to you in full — you just have to do your part: 1) Trust in Him with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, 2) Seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Don’t keep begging Him for what’s already yours — instead, thank Him … and then do your part!
Focus on righteousness. Only obsess about the things that you can control. When you can’t sleep and are tempted to worry, turn it around and instead ask the Lord to show you areas in your life where you can be more obedient and righteous, where you can better reflect Him. Make good use of those restless nights!
Find the tightrope. We’re supposed to be on the narrow path anyways, right? It can be easy to stray in fat times when the tightrope is laying on the ground and we have the latitude to wander any which way. Now that times are lean, the ground has pulled away and there’s no safety net, let it force you back to the narrow path. Be obsessed with fully honoring God with every step; every thought, word and action. Commit to staying on it when things get “better.” And when you can’t see very far ahead and your chest gets tight, just focus on the very next step, even if it’s just inhale, then exhale, then inhale…. God will get you through it!
Honor the landowner. In many years of taking boys hunting and fishing through the youth ministry I founded, we developed clear-cut rules for relating to landowners: Get to know them, maniacally follow their rules, and leave the place better than you found it. It’s easy to think the things we have are “ours.” But the Bible says otherwise: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything that’s in it.” Start treating God like the landowner He is. The stuff you have (and/or had) isn’t yours! Remember the words to the old hymn, “I am but a stranger here, Heaven is my home.” Get to know the Landowner! Follow His rules! Leave the place better than you found it, every single day! And don’t be surprised if and when He trusts you with more keys to open more gates!
Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There was wisdom in that old Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. If God has given you something to do, do it, regardless of what you see or understand. If you play your chips, when times are high you’ll be careless and wasteful, and when times are low you’ll miss out on all the key opportunities. You can’t lose when you set your eyes on things above, and walk accordingly!
Playing chicken. So you’re staring the monster in the teeth, running headlong into some scary stuff? Great! Time to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Either all we hear and sing about in church is true or it’s not. This is your chance to see exactly what God is made of. Don’t blink, don’t swerve and don’t panic — stay on the narrow path as He leads you, and run the race with endurance! This may be the best opportunity of your life to find what’s meaningful and true! My experience is, the whole world will swerve to avoid crashing into a man of God.
Count the cost. Jesus said we should count the cost of following Him. What if He were to require you to give up all your earthly possessions so that you could remain in a personal relationship with Him? It’s not without precedent! You don’t know God’s plan: These “tough times” may be permanent. You must ask yourself, will you be truly content with simply being in His will? And learn to celebrate, not resent, others’ good fortune.
Focus on fruit. Someday we’ll all stand before the Lord and He’ll ask, “Where’s the fruit?” (I’m reminded of that old woman in the Wendy’s commercial … “Where’s the beef?!”) He gives us time, talents and treasure in this world for one primary purpose: To produce fruit that pleases Him. Have you been doing this? One thing is certain, even if you have less today than yesterday, you can. Be faithful with the little that you do have today! Keep planting seeds and working the soil, and be efficient and effective at it. Then He just may give you more.
Learn all you can! Keep asking the Lord, “What more can I learn through this?” That’s another prayer He’ll always answer!
Be transparent. Don’t act like things are rocking and rolling if they’re not. In being open, honest and humble, you may finally learn what the Body of Christ is all about! Don’t be ashamed — accept help from those the Lord brings your way.
Keep smiling. God is still in control! He still has cattle on a thousand hills! Don’t let others get you down. They’ll try! Remember Job’s source of hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
Take notes. That’s what I did, and now I might just be helping others. Plan to do the same! Be a living monument to the Lord to remind the world of His mighty power!