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God’s Kingdom Come

I got an iphone for Christmas and must admit, it is really cool. It is so user friendly and easy to use. They truly designed it with an understanding of how people operate and think. I can get to my e-mail and on the internet with simple touches on a screen that is clear and large enough to read or watch and manipulate to accommodate whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Apparently there are apps for everything, though I still haven’t taken advantage of that world yet. They really were thinking of me when they designed it. But then the funny thing I was thinking about, as I realized that church is becoming more and more like an iphone, is that all this stuff my phone can do has very little to do with phone calling at all. Similarly, churches are becoming more and more user friendly with advertisements on the radio which say, “We do church differently” and “we’re not your grandmother’s church” and “If you didn’t used to like church, come try ours and we think you’ll like it better.” One church had as it motto: “Contemporary, Comfortable, Coffee” Seriously.

I was reading an article that Richard Pratt wrote in a 2007 issue of By Faith Magazine and it really resonated with other things I have been thinking about. In discussing the Lord’s Prayer, he began by acknowledging that most of us make the second half our priority…give us our daily bread, forgive us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. “We find ourselves in the bottom half of the Lord’s Prayer because it reflects the greatest vision that many of us have for our lives: securing our personal well-being.” He of course acknowledged that seeking the Lord for forgiveness and provision is beautiful and holy and what faith calls us to do. But that half apart from the foundation of the first, is simply exchanging the “hallowed name” of our Father whose Kingdom we desire to come for “Sugar Daddy” who we stick with for all that He can give us.

This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matt. 6:9-10

Honestly, making sure my kingdom will come drives most of my decisions and prevents me from making others. What if running after God’s Kingdom is actually a loss of perspective and I wake up five, ten, twenty years later and have cut myself off from people I will “need” then or opportunities for advancement I could build by staying on this track? The perceived shalom of financial, social and career security somehow becomes enough of a goal than the fuller shalom of the Garden which was merely a shadow of the shalom of God’s Kingdom. People from every tribe, nation, language, culture, ethnicity with a wide variety of interests, gifts, talents, perspectives and passions living in unity and harmony…how that vision of shalom crushes my puny kingdom of me personal shalom.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:34-36

Consistent with the whole story of the person and work of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation, I don’t think this means what I used to assume it means. I don’t think my salvation is secured or lost by living for myself or sacrificing everything that occurs to me for God’s Kingdom as some sort of penance or indulgence to find and maintain favor. Instead, it is a reminder that life is found in God’s Kingdom alone, that all good gifts are from Him and not my own procuring, that He ordains places and times and every circumstance of my life, and I am not left to hope in my resume or networking as a replacement source for my future. What if I began to really believe this? What if I quit asking the church to be an iphone to serve my self-esteem and conveniences and began to join it as a body with which to work in bringing shalom to my neighborhood and the community around me?

Here is something else that Pratt wrote in that article: “Jesus put it this way later in Matthew 6:33. ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.’ For many of us, our greatest dream is to live in safety, to retire comfortably, and to escape this planet by flying away to heaven. yet the first priority in every Christian’s life should not be to ensure our physical, economic, social, or emotional well-being; it should be to extend God’s kingdom and His righteousness to the ends of the earth (as it is in heaven)…If we will move beyond preoccupation with personal well-being and catch the vision that Jesus gives us in the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, we will see the gospel and the kingdom go forth with power…”

This is dangerously close to preaching a new law about simply rejecting traditional expectations and running after shocking and head turning life choices. Ironically, that turns out to be just as self-centered and self-promoting as the more conventional methods of chasing after God’s favor and praises of men. Imaging Jesus first requires a repentant view of my “contribution” apart from the gracious, merciful and compassionate pursuit of my by the only One who can rightly be called “good”. From here, well, true life and shalom is found where He is and evidences of His Kingdom coming now spring up all around us. Playing in the snow yesterday with our neighbors was a definite taste of shalom. Sharing a meal in from the cold with some of these same neighbors was a taste of this shalom. We didn’t do anything but participate in His Kingdom coming now as black and white, relatively more affluent and quite poor, girls and boys, single and married enjoyed sliding down the snowy streets on trash can lids. Our different backgrounds, different educational accomplishments and future careers had no bearing on our delight in the day together.

His Kingdom is coming and it is so so much more interesting and life-giving than the one of my own. Why do I try to protect my tiny, anemic kingdom of me at all cost, even though it is wasting away with each day no matter what? I assume it is because my vision of His Kingdom, of Ultimate Shalom, needs to be enlarged beyond my mirror. And He is doing this and will do it.

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matt. 10:6-8

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