The Tangible Kingdom

How do you define “the Kingdom of God?” I’ve been mulling that over lately. Jesus describes it as yeast hidden in dough, seed scattered on good and bad soil, a treasure buried in a field. He urges us to seek it more than the earth-bound “stuff” that captures our attention. On one occasion He said it is within or among us. It encompasses the visible universe and unseen spiritual realms and doesn’t operate by the usual rules of typical, earthly power structures.

It makes sense to have a clear idea of what we’re pursuing when we seek God’s Kingdom and ask God to bring it – but what exactly ARE we pursuing and asking God to bring? And would the answer make anyone want to come along with us?

God’s Kingdom is bigger than any definition we could come up with, but let’s start by calling it the arena where His will is being done, on earth, in heaven, and in and among us. That would include love, forgiveness, healing, rebirth, restoration, justice and mercy, shalom, knowing and walking with Him. That’s our God, and that’s His Kingdom. But it’s hard to make the concept of God’s kingdom tangible. The things we do in God’s name – our religion and practices – aren’t the whole story, but they’re often visible, concrete, and measurable. They’re what a watching world sees. And honestly, sometimes it’s easier to keep doing what we’ve always done rather than to think about the purpose behind what we do. When I read accounts of Jesus’ work on earth, I get the impression this isn’t a new problem. Jesus seemed to make a point of defying religious conventions for the more important purpose of bringing God’s Kingdom in that moment to the those around Him. God’s will: always. Cultural expectations: not necessarily. He embodied the Kingdom, and He calls us to do the same.

The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (250 HAL, church library) is the story of a community trying to live out that idea. Their goal: form a core of like-minded kingdom people loving each other and those around them, and make it easy for “spiritually disoriented” folks to get in close to see their Christianity lived out, and do this all while avoiding becoming a typical church. While the authors address their book primarily to pastors and church planters, their experiences are thought-provoking for anyone. My own take-aways include:

  • Individually – We have more freedom to love and serve Christ and others than we take advantage of! God’s Kingdom is likely more comprehensible to our friends when experienced outside a traditional religious framework. If that involves skipping a few church services or “healing on a Sabbath,” you’re in good company.

  • Small groups (e.g. family, lifeGroup) – Keep loving and serving each other and others without expectations. Enjoy life and welcome others into your orbit. Such a lifestyle IS the gospel to a watching world. Talk comes later.

  • Church – It’s really hard to let go of lifelong habits and expectations of what “church” should be and do, even when we’re aware of them.   Moving together as a united body against the cultural current is even harder. But with God, all things are possible.

I’m curious to know what you think – get in touch with me (sanders@nutrisci.wisc.edu)!

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