August 2, 2014

Thoughts on Seeking The Kingdom of God

fishermen“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33 NLT)

1. You won’t get very far in following Jesus if you don’t have some idea of what “the Kingdom of God” means, because Jesus talks about it constantly, and commands you to seek it.

2. Most Christian spirituality has practically pursued this as meaning, “Go to the church and all you need to know of the Kingdom is there.” That’s a very inadequate answer, and you don’t have to be an exceptionally deep Christian to know that.

3. The church should be pointing at the Kingdom all the time, both inside and outside of its own boundaries.

4. The church should be actively helping you to seek the Kingdom of God. For starters, the church should know that it isn’t the Kingdom and should be able to keep you from making that mistake.

5. The church should be teaching what the Kingdom is; mentoring you so that you will increasingly recognize it and understand how you participate in the Kingdom of God in various ways.

6. Wherever possible, the church should be facilitating and encouraging the Kingdom of God, primarily by proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and inviting people to enter the Kingdom of God now, by faith in Jesus the Messiah.

7. The Kingdom is a present dimension of the world we live in, a world where God is actively present and at work, but it is also a coming reality, not here in fullness. Seeing the Kingdom in its present form and not insisting that it take its final form ahead of schedule is a critical balance for the follower of Jesus.

8. One of Jesus’ most important teachings about the Kingdom is its presence in the last, least, lost, little and obscure. This signals a huge change of perspective for the Christian living in post-evangelical times. We must be sensitive to the presence of the Kingdom in places that our movement treats as unimportant, even “God forsaken.”

9. We are commanded to actively seek the Kingdom, not just wonder where it might be and talk about possibilities. We are to look for it like a person looks for a lost valuable or a hidden treasure. Wherever Christians are, they are not commanded to wait until the Kingdom comes to them or they are suddenly transformed to the place of seeing the Kingdom. It is in seeking it, in the world as well as in the community of believers, that the Kingdom is discovered.

10. God’s provisions are promised in the context of seeking the Kingdom, not in seeking provisions or comfort. We can take care of ourselves, or we can seek the reign of a redeeming, rescuing, recreating God in the world, and he will take care of us along the way. Would you rather have much without his provision or what he blesses and gives you in the course of seeking the Kingdom?

11. Scripture is full of people seeking God’s Kingdom. Study them! Learn from what they learned. God taught them in the midst of the adventure.

12. Do not expect to take up this quest and return the same person. Seeking the Kingdom is a taking up and a casting off; a journey of trust and a facing of fear. But it how God describes life! Not accumulating or being culturally acceptable, but on the way to seeing the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

Comments

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I am convinced that both Stalin and Mao both wanted sincerely to create heaven on earth. -_ Sue Kephart

    As did Robespierre, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban. The evil creeps in when others (made in God’s Image) become tools to be used or obstacles to be destroyed for that Vision of Heaven on Earth.

    Or (even worse) that Vision of Heaven in Heaven (as in Fluffy Cloud Heaven), with the physical cosmos (and physical things like…people) removed from the picture entirely. (Which makes a mockery of the Incarnation.) IMonk’s stressing of the here-and-now aspect of the Kingdom is there as a counter to the Evangelical emphasis on “the Sweet By and By” aspect isolated in an indefinite mystical/spiritual future. Either without the other is badly out of balance, one of those doctrines that by itself (according to Chesterton) could easily lay waste to a world.

  2. sue kephart says:

    How do you personally join Him in what He is doing if you have no personal spiritual life? I am curious. How literal do you look at Scripture is another thing I am asking.

    I think at one time on my journey I agreed with you. Not to say I am ahead or behind. We are all beginners here on the planet and may be in different places. I had a pastor who kept saying (at least to my ears) the farthest place is between the head and the heart. What? Once I got that, well, I was in a different place. I don’t mean I (me me me) gives my heart to Jesus. I mean living a Spiritual life from the God within. Is that too mystical for you???

  3. >…I mean living a Spiritual life from the God within.

    If Jesus said it. I’m for it. If some other guy did, then it’s less interesting. Sounds like some other guy on first read.

    I’m not really aware of how you concluded anyone was advocating not having a “spiritual life.”

    Mysticism is elitism. That doesn’t mean all mystics are wrong. It does mean they, either by temperament or by experiences, are always telling the ordinary Christian the functional equivalent of “You don’t have enough God experience.”

    I didn’t write the Lord’s Prayer or the Sermon on the Mount. I’m not selling much of an interpretation of either. I don’t see Jesus turning the disciples into Mystics. The experiences they had fit into the Apostolic curriculum, but we all don’t have to see visions, miracles or hear voices. We don’t have to sign up for a course in subjective experience.

    We all have an experience, and God respects our personhood. Many people can’t read. Can’t go to Holy places. Can’t pursue a mystical way. They can do practical things. Love in practical ways and that’s it.

    My mother didn’t have a mystical bone. She may have had little sense of God’s presence. But she served him and loved others like him. If Jesus said something, she either didn’t understand it, or she believed it or she did it.

    I think that’s the Christian life. We believe some things and we do some things.

    I don’t want to squabble over mysticism, because I am on good terms with a lot of those folks. But I have a low tolerance for dividing the Christian body up into various groups based on how much theology can be ingested or how much mysticism can be cooked up.

    ms

  4. Fr.Ernesto wrote:

    I tend to view the Church as the place where the Kingdom of God breaks through into this world at this point in time.

    I think that’s partly right, maybe even mostly right (but that would depend a lot on the church , I guess). The church might not be the whole knife, maybe the knife’s edge.. not the whole flame, but where the flame burns hottest. Just working off lunch here.

  5. sue kephart says:

    Agree. I got their by God’s will. I am an over the top extravert who as you might notice never shuts up. God uses our weakness to show it is Him not ourselves doing it. I would not have picked it. Feeding people in Africa would be more my style. I don’t have a big education and don’t know all this fancy theology. I am a wife, mother and grandma. Sixth grandchild due Thanksgiving day.

    We are all unique. We all have different life experiences. I think your mother was a role model of the Godly life.

    However, Paul didn’t fall off the horse and blind himself. The Apostles didn’t get it until the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost even though they spent three years with Jesus.

    We all are spiritual beings,eternal beings. We don’t have to have visions or hear voices to notice God’s little miracles every day. All I can tell you is He is with us, truly with us. Please don’t dismiss us we are part of the Body and not elitist at all.

  6. Werther says:

    Myrddin, I’m pretty sure Zossima wasn’t Roman Catholic.

    :)

    I would connect the Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven with the Greatest Commandment / New Commandment. When we have love (in the sense of genuine caring), then to that extent, we enter the kingdom and help make it manifest. It’s not “in heaven,” or the birds of the air would get there before us, etc.

  7. Werther says:

    iMonk: “Mysticism is elitism.”

    It doesn’t have to be. Think of the “mysteries” of the church. Historically, the language and concept was borrowed from ancient Near Eastern paganism, which had (for example) voluntary initiation ceremonies comparable to baptism, and communal ritual meals comparable to the eucharist or agape feast.

    Note that anybody can participate, not only an elite. Of course, not everyone will attain to an equal appreciation of their depths, but that would be true of any intellectual or spiritual gift.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Mysticism is elitism. That doesn’t mean all mystics are wrong. It does mean they, either by temperament or by experiences, are always telling the ordinary Christian the functional equivalent of “You don’t have enough God experience.” — IMonk

    Paraphrasing St Paul on tongues and spiritual gifts:

    Some are pragmatics, some are mystics. The pragmatic Christian should not look down on the mystic Christian as a foggy-headed dreamer; the mystic Christian should not look down on the pragmatic Christian as “lacking enough God experience”.

  9. Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If seeking the indwelling God creates the sin of elitism, then the person looking for the Kingdom is heading away from it. But if you seek, you shall find, meaning you’re heading toward it.

    Maybe Martha got it right and Mary was elitist, but Jesus didn’t care. Mary was seeking the Kingdom in her own way.

  10. I like that, Headless Unicorn Guy (Can I call you…”HUG”?) about the pragmatic and mystic Christians. We need both and we actually need to BE both. We come to God in prayer, approach his throne, allow his gracious goodness to mold us and heal us and then we go out and feed the poor, love the unlovable, get up every day even when it’s hard. Mystic and pragmatic.

    And where does the Church come in here? The Church guides us, feeds us spiritually and brings the disciples together to worship our King…Jesus. We are then strengthened to go out into the world and do our part to allow “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” The little mustard seed Kingdom both within us and within the world at large grows as we share the love of God with others. And no, this world will never be perfect until Jesus returns, but he wants out participation. It is how we grow and how we come to know him and to be more like him while we remain ourselves.

    This is my take on it anyway.

    Michael, I like your bit in #9: “Wherever Christians are, they are not commanded to wait until the Kingdom comes to them or they are suddenly transformed to the place of seeing the Kingdom. It is in seeking it, in the world as well as in the community of believers, that the Kingdom is discovered.”

    Scot McKnight had a multi-part series of writings about the Kingdom of God, but I can’t find it online right now. I have emailed Scot to see if he will give me the URL. I hope his email address is still what I have for him.

  11. sue kephart says:

    I like this:

    When Jesus come “at the end of the ages” it will be his first coming for some.

    It will be his second coming for others.

    It will be his third coming for some.

  12. I’m glad you worded it as “The church should” because quite frankly, It has been years since I stepped foot inside of an institutional church that didn’t want everyone to think that it is the Kingdom of God. I know better and you know better. But let’s face it, most do not.

    Pretty pathetic!!! But you are right on, the church should help believers to know what the kingdom is and to help them seek it and find it.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  13. sue kephart says:

    ok, I had to go to a pot luck-part: Big of my tradition.

    “You don’t have enough God experience”
    Hum. Are you reluctnt to ask someone to “give their heart to Jesus” because in your tradition you believe that is what will “save them?

    Then why would you find it difficult for me to encourage you and others to “know the Lord”? Not in some intellectual theological way but to know Him in your soul?

    Do you honestly believe people can live the life you are asking them to live ie “Jesus shaped” with out the help of the Holy Spirit? As long as you stay in your head you are safe from
    God.

  14. We’ll probably never know the full extent of the kingdom and all that it encompasses — not while we’re still looking through the dark glass of finite human perception and understanding. But scripture does make it clear that active, self-sacrificing love is the prevailing law and governmental mandate of the kingdom. So, even if we don’t fully understand it, we can still be good citizens of it.

  15. Michael Bell -

    What is a good definition of “Gospel” that includes “Kingdom”?

    Good question. I don’t think every time we communicate the gospel we have to utilise the word ‘kingdom’. And I think you would agree. The same is true in that we don’t have to quote John 3:16 or a few Scriptures from Romans to acceptably communicate the gospel. The gospel is quite broad. I am not embracing any kind of universalist inclusion here. But the gospel is more than a few statements, and communicating the good news will vary in varying situations. And I know you know this.

    I like what George Ladd said in his book, The Gospel of the Kingdom: ‘The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal life, salvation: they are all interchangeable terms.’

    Still, I would believe it healthy to the see the church understand and embrace the kingdom (or gospel of the kingdom) more, since it was the passion of Jesus. It’s just that the word/phrase was never defined in Scripture because many would have had some understanding of what the phrase communicates, though some of the leaders confused it as the Messiah coming to set up a political kingdom.

    Anyways, the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God is that the manifestation of the rule of God has broken into human history through the arrival of the King, Jesus. With the rule of God breaking into this present age, the blessings of the kingdom come as well – salvation, healing, His will being done, righteousness. Yet, we still await the final summing up of things when the King returns. (Maybe that definition is too long.)

  16. Sue:

    >….Do you honestly believe people can live the life you are asking them to live ie “Jesus shaped” with out the help of the Holy Spirit? As long as you stay in your head you are safe from God.

    I’m not comfortable having to say this to someone who is my elder in the faith and in life, but this kind of comment is simply unacceptable. No one has suggested anyone do anything without the Holy Spirit. No one is suggesting anyone live in their head. Such accusations are very inappropriate in this discussion. The appropriate words for suggesting some of us are denying the work of the Holy Spirit of sentence are “outrageous” and “uncharitable.”

    You seem to have decided that your role here at IM is to react to everything I write in the same way. You are advocating your spiritual path and vocabulary (which is fine) to the point that I am having to defend myself regarding issues ONLY YOU have raised. There is a prosecutorial tone that I am not comfortable with, and I am sorry to have to say so.

    Your participation is welcome and interesting, but I am not sponsoring a debate that descends into questioning the basic Christian commitments of commenters.

    Various points of view? Sure. Demanding- and I can think of no other word- that I “justify” various things, etc.? Not in the spirit of the blog. I have said this before and I am not saying it again: Our various paths and experiences are not a contest for the claim of “real Christianity.”

    ms

  17. “Mysticism is elitism. That doesn’t mean all mystics are wrong. It does mean they, either by temperament or by experiences, are always telling the ordinary Christian the functional equivalent of “You don’t have enough God experience.”

    Wow! – Have you met many of whoever “they” are? In my experience, that kind of arrogance has been found usually in other places: the newly converted, the weekly bible study groupie, the guy at work who feels the need to tell you the “Good News.” Not in the person who has an intense prayer life. I think there is plenty of arrogance in the Church.

    “Biblical Fundamentalism “Bible Believin’ Church” is elitism”
    “Ritualism is elitism”
    “Iconoclasm is elitism”
    “Education is elitism”

    Of course pride is a common sin. But anybody who devotes much of their life to a particular way of experiencing God is going to champion that way. In our egalitarian society they will be labeled a snob. But if they are finding the real, living God, it does not matter.

  18. Joe M:

    I did not say mystics were arrogant. Or that anyone was arrogant.

    And you- not me- equated mysticism with having a prayer life.

    Mysticism is not prayer. Prayer is prayer. A mystic in my definition is a person who has mystical experiences. IF they normatize those, and if I haven’t had one, then we’ve got the “had the experience” people and the “haven’t had the experience.”

    A good friend of mine is a Catholic today because of visions. I don’t have them. Does God not like me?

    It’s just like Charismatics saying they have “the baptism” and I don’t. It’s not arrogant. It’s a dividing.

    Your restatement of what I said is unacceptable to me.

    ms

  19. sue kephart says:

    imonk,

    I am just trying to figure it out. Real Christianity (your words not mine) is a very big tent in my opinion. Mystics are people who have a profound prayer life. They are part of the Body as you are. Same Spirit different gifts.

    Many feel their active life in ministry is where they are expressing God. Is that dividing because other don’t or can’t participate in the Body this way? Should you stop talking about your ministry to students because other can’t do that?

    Because some one received the gift of the baptism in the Spirit or tongues or visions we must discount them because we didn’t receive these gifts?

    Would you please tell me what you mean by prayer is prayer? In my opinion prayer is more than asking God for what I want. Because you don’t like the way some people pray is it wrong? People can only pray the way you do?

    And you did say “mysticism is elitism”. Why?

  20. We disagree on the definition of a mystic. I said a mystic is one who has mystical experiences. Such experiences, when shared as normative, raise the issues of why one person has them and another doesn’t.

    We had an IM commenter for several months who claimed personal revelations from God. That’s a mystic in my book. When commenting, she would tell us what God told her. My best friend is a Catholic because, in part, she has mystical experiences of Mary answering prayers. Just her. Not me. There’s nothing arrogant about this. But it creates a spiritual elite. God talks to them and not us. God gives them visions and not us.

    The mystic is a self-referencing authority. He/she can claim anything and there is no verification. If they say God has told me that I am to marry John Smith, what is poor John Smith to do?

    Prayer is not something that can be divided into a team sport. Rational vs Mystical. And Christianity can’t be divided into people who have a devotional life and people who don’t, both wagging their fingers and nagging at the other. None of these things are all or nothing. I have a mystical element to my faith. God told me to work where I work. God has spoken to me about my wife’s Catholicism. But I don’t tell others about this, because that implies that God should be talking to them, and they rightfully can say “Does God not love me? I need to hear his voice as well.”

    I am not going to respond to questions based on a premise you have furnished and no one on this thread has stated or agreed with. You continually ask questions then furnish the negative answer in the next statement. How many times am I supposed to type “That’s not what I said or believe.”

    Further, we are off topic. We are chasing a rabbit that was never mentioned in the post and we aren’t going to settle this because I am not going to agree that contemplative spirituality is the top of the mountain.

  21. sue kephart says:

    Getting back on topic, the Kingdom of God. I believe God has a big Kingdom. He has room for all of us.

    I agree about saying what “God told me”. That sure not what I am about.It is control freaking. So is “I asked God for a husband and he is going to give me one because Scripture says ask and you shall receive”.

    Please don’t put words in my mouth. I get in enough trouble with my own. I don’t need help in the area. I never said contemplative spirituality is the top of the mountain.

    Maybe Jesus shapes come in different sizes and patterns.

  22. sue kephart says:

    ps. I believe everyone has so called “Mystical experiences”. We just don’t always recognize them.

  23. If they say God has told me that I am to marry John Smith, what is poor John Smith to do?

    Move to a state without gay marriage, of course!

  24. sue kephart says:

    Also if you think God is urging you to do something (A mystic is a self-refencing authority) you need to be in spiritual direction. I don’t teach a contemplative prayer class with out being in direction.

  25. Michael, thanks for the example of the Lord’s Prayer. That really was helpful to my understanding.

    So the Kingdom is to seek to do the will of God. Okay, I think we can all agree on that much? :-)

    What is His will? Ask for our daily bread; forgive our enemies; ask for forgiveness.

    Love the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

    If we love Him, keep His commandments.

    Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, take the stranger in to our home.

    Watch for the coming of the Bridegroom. Use the talents entrusted to us by the Master.

    I think maybe the mistrust of mysticism Michael is referring to has more to do with the over-emphasis some denominations or churches put on spiritual experiences (e.g. if you don’t speak in tongues, you are not saved!) to the expense of the works commanded of us – alsmgiving and feeding the hungry, etc.

    From the Catholic/Orthodox side, the enclosed religious are separate from the world, but not separated from it – they are doing work for the world in their contemplation, solitude and sacrifice. While we toil in the world, investing the talents, they keep the oil-lamps alight, watching for the bridegroom.

  26. Newadvent.org has an entry on the Kingdom of God that I’ve found really helpful. It’s at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08646a.htm

  27. Werther says:

    iMonk: “We had an IM commenter for several months who claimed personal revelations from God. That’s a mystic in my book.”

    I can see, then, why you might distrust the concept of mysticism. Obviously the word is used in different ways, not all of which would be welcome in every religious circle.

    Some churches assume the term to refer to something inherently bad. For example, many Baptists assume “mysticism” to include things like astrology and spiritualism. Catholics and other liturgical churches of course have their very significant tradition of mystics…but these could not be said to be self-authenticating, or removed from accountability. (Someone mentioned spiritual direction.)

    In recent years, psychologists of a certains stripe have examined various types of spiritual experience which are often called “mystical.” Even Baptists would accept, for example, that a person might experience a feeling of grace, or the promptings of conscience, even if they avoid the m-word. Of course a feeling cannot authenticate itself, and the purpose of religion should not be to inculcate certain feelings of experiences. (If you want that, take drugs.)

    Pietism seems to have arisen out of a desire among Protestants for their Christian devotions to feel meaningful. Its opponents accused the pietists of thereby disbelieving in solo fide (saying one only needs faith, not any “special” experience). And of course the content of Christian “mystical” experience can easily, if too individualized, blend into novelties such as special revelations. (Whence your friend who apparently trance-channels God.)

  28. sue kephart says:

    imonk,

    I am not trying to be problematic. If you are still reading this post comments could you do some writing on a statement you made?

    “In this world where the incarnation invests God with us completely.” I’m afraid you lost me completely on this one.

  29. I am going to weigh in on the mystical experience issue.

    I have had several of them, even before I started thinking about Catholicism. I do think that one thing that made my journey easier was that.

    Do I think they are normative. NO WAY. Just like some of us don’t really get deep into philosophy and theology. (GRIN)

    Nor would I ever advise anyone to seek them out. First, if you seek them out, you might find counterfeit ones; secondly they are scary (or at least mine were), thirdly, mine were/are extremely personal. Not for sharing. (Though I do wish that I could find a spiritual director that eventually I could trust and share about them.)

    To clarify about being scary, I don’t mean as being scared as one should of hell or a raging forest fire. But, perhaps “aweful” (purposely spelled that way. Like a birthday cake candle loving and being loved by the sun.

  30. Imonk,

    By your definition of a mystic, you do think there are spiritual elites (in the early church and in OT times), just none now. I honestly don’t think God considers folks who experience him in those ways as “elite,” especially considering how he framed issues of greatness and the way certain persons acted, but c’est la vie.

    God gives more to some people than to others in a variety of ways. The 12, for example were chosen out of many, and 3 were given more than the other 9. It doesn’t make them “elite.” To whom much is given, much is required.

  31. Michael,
    Sorry for my assumptions about what you meant about mystics and elitism.

    In my own experience I feel a mixture of skepticism and envy when someone tells me of their supernatural experiences of a religious nature. If the experience sounds credible, I might conclude that life is unfair and that God gives and does not give as He sees fit. And the next step usually involves some soul searching as to why I don’t rank up there high enough for God to treat me similarly. The NT is full of examples of people having supernatural experiences and others not. I suppose Christians with mystical experiences can feel elite just like those with any other gift, be it smarts, or health or wealth or extraordinary talent. And we can envy them for what God has given them.

    Maybe a paraphrase from Eleanor Roosevelt says it best for me: “no one can make you feel small unless you give them permission to do so.”

  32. JoanieD says:

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/kingdom-of-god/2008/04/
    Scot McKnight gave me the above URL where you can read his writings about the Kingdom of God. Be aware that in the first sentence it has a place to click to go to a page showing the writings in another format, but that link no longer works. But all the writings are there on his beliefnet URL above anyway.

    Happy reading!

  33. Ed Stetzer spoke on the relationship of the church and the kingdom at Advance 09. Audio here:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ConferenceMessages/ByConference/45/3958_Keys_to_Understanding_the_Church_and_Kingdom/

  34. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And of course the content of Christian “mystical” experience can easily, if too individualized, blend into novelties such as special revelations. (Whence your friend who apparently trance-channels God.) — Werther

    With Catholics it’s “trance-channeling Mary”. That’s how we got the Baysiders, Hill-of-Hopers, and lots other Tridentine Flake Cults.

    Makes me wish St Mary WOULD appear to some of these wannabe visionaries and slap some sense into them.

    In my own experience I feel a mixture of skepticism and envy when someone tells me of their supernatural experiences of a religious nature. — Joe M

    Same here. Too many times when “their supernatural experience of a religious nature” became just another weapon in the game of One-Upmanship — Charismatics looking down on Cessationists as “not REALLY Saved”, Cessationists looking down on Charismatics as “deluded” to “demonized”, both looking on the other (unlike themselves) as A Second-class Christian.

    All I can tell you for sure about Tongues is I don’t do them. All I can tell you about blatant miracles is none have gone down in my presence and were recognizable as such. All I can tell you about demon possession and exorcism is I haven’t experienced or witnessed it (and I’m not sure I want to).

    (Actually, I look upon miracles as a subset of paranormal phenomena, which I in turn view as analogous to Very Rare natural phenomena — they exist, they get reported reliably, but chances are you or I won’t be on hand to see one.)