Category Archives: The Kingdom

Upstairs / Downstairs

One of the church’s most deadly distractions from the Kingdom is our silly “upstairs / downstairs” idea. From the early centuries of the church, Gnosticism and Greek philosophies began to seep into our thinking which separated God’s world into two levels of reality: the upstairs “spiritual” level, where God lives, and the downstairs “natural” level, where mortals live, work, and watch America’s Got Talent in the evening.

We live downstairs in the “natural” world while God lives upstairs
in the “heavenly” world.

This messed-up worldview has kept our lives as divided as whites and colors on laundry day. We imagine God almost like a reclusive old grandfather living on the second floor, while the rest of us are grinding away at life down below. Of course God loves it when we go upstairs to visit Him on Sundays, or when we need His advice. But he never, ever comes downstairs to get involved in our messy existence on the ground floor. He’s just not interested in our music, work, TV shows, or the sports car in the garage. (He’s way too religious for those sorts of “natural” things). So we mostly leave him alone in His upstairs apartment where he can watch TBN, The Gaithers, or his favorite series, The Chosen, in peace and quiet.

The Kingdom, of course, is exactly the opposite: God has moved right down into the midst of our stuff on the ground floor, and He moves throughout the house tinkering, laughing, helping out with our messes, or rolling up His sleeves to lend a hand with the science project. He also loves America’s Got Talent, and I think I even caught Him tapping his foot to one of my ragtime tunes on the piano.

There is NO Upstairs-Downstairs, but only one world where God and people live together!

This upstairs-downstairs idea has done immense damage to both the church and the world. At times it has kept me from reading good “non-religious” books, from expressing political opinions, and occasionally it even keeps me from enjoying too much laughter and good times with friends. But the saddest and most dangerous thing of all is in “partitioning” God off from the rest of life. The Kingdom means God has invaded all things with his presence. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” There is no division; neither upstairs nor downstairs. He inhabits it all.

Never in trouble

I just noticed an uptick in views here at Dispatches, and I’m wondering if perhaps people are looking for some perspective on the simultaneous crises happening around us. Certainly the world is looking more dangerous and chaotic than at any time in the immediate past.

Dallas Willard reminds us, “The Kingdom is never in trouble. And you are a part of the Kingdom. So you are not in trouble.” My YWAM friends in Kiev, (where I was scheduled to speak in five weeks time), surely feel like they’re in trouble. They’re sheltering in the basement and praying, while missiles fly overhead, and explosions rock the city. This is reality: life is a battlefield, but Jesus is at our side.

In every great, triumphant story there are battles. Without great battles there can be no great victories. Jesus promised us several things in life: peace, power, and trouble in this world, “but take courage… I have overcome the world.” His Kingdom is secure. It is not in trouble. And besides, He reminds us that “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

If I were a prognosticator I would say that for those of us who live in the West, things will likely get worse before they get better. We will need to learn that we cannot trust in the idols of people and politics. Many of us have become complacent and hopeful that the next election might save the day. We will need to repent from those idols and return to the King and the Kingdom as our only hope.

In the meantime, we must learn to pray and intercede, not casual prayers, nor prayers “on the run”, but focused prayers in agreement with others around us. We must gather for prayer. These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary, life-interrupting action.

Then I believe we will begin to see great changes and great victories around us.

Shock Therapy

Are we getting it yet?  Because if we don’t, this nightmare can get exponentially worse.  Two possibilities compete for the future of the human race: godless totalitarianism, or the Kingdom of God.  We cannot return to where we were.  We cannot go back to our failed nationalisms and idolatries.  We are experiencing shock therapy, and with very good reason.   Even our churches have missed it by miles, and that is a huge part of this crisis.

Everything around us is being shaken “so that those things which cannot be shaken will remain.”  (Hebrews 12:27).  God’s purpose on planet earth is not to install a livable “global order”, or to “build back better”.  And it certainly isn’t to establish world peace through godless human effort and mutually assured destruction.  Globalism is doomed before it leaves the gate because it is but one more futile brainchild of fallen humanity.  Neither Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, Anthony Fauci nor Davos can save us.   


  • “Politics will save us”  NO!  ZAP!!  A thousand times no! 
  • “Clever science will save us!”  WRONG again!  Zzzzt! 
  • “Religion will save us and take us to heaven”.  BOOM!  Zzzt!  Jesus is not a lifeboat for a doomed planet, He is the Redeemer of all things!
  • Globalism will save us!”  Zzzt!  Zzzzzt!  Not a chance!
  • “Vaccines will save us!”  BOOM!  ZAP!  No! NO!  
  • “Critical theory, gender studies, ANTIFA, BLM and elections will save us!”   BAM!  Zzzt!  BOOM!  These shocks will stop the moment you forsake your delusion!          

There is ONE man and ONE plan that will save us!   The man, Jesus, and the only thing he ever called the “Good News”!  The Kingdom of God; the untested promise of the ages!    

We must turn to the Lord, and to the reality HE has spoken into existence, to HIS ways, HIS grace,  and HIS plan!  Let us choose HIS plan and see what glory will descend upon us; what beauty, abundance, order, compassion, and justice!  To continue on our present road will only invite more shock to our fragile lives.  “Here is the most radical idea ever presented to the mind of man. It means nothing less than replacing man’s order with God’s order.”   – H.G. Wells

The End of days?

A few friends have asked me to share my thoughts about the situation we’re currently facing. The honest truth is that I probably wrestle as much as anyone else. I do have a fundamentally optimistic view of history: that all things will be redeemed, and the Kingdom will grow like a mustard seed until the earth is filled with goodness, justice, and beauty. So perhaps I can share from that perspective.

Clearly these are perilous times, but are they, indeed, the final days? Perhaps. But in the way of perspective, let me tell you about the year 536 AD. For eighteen months the deadliest volcanic eruption ever recorded was spreading ash into the atmosphere and darkening the entire earth. Catastrophic crop failures triggered a worldwide famine, which along with the Bubonic plague wiped-out one half of the Roman Empire. One half!! Snow was falling in China during the summer months, and raging floods devastated South America.

So things have been bad before.

But today we are undoubtedly closer than ever to the return of our King. And if Covid, anarchy, idolatry, and godlessness is the prelude to that glorious moment, how, then shall we live? Hebrews tells us, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for God is a consuming fire”. (Hebrews 12: 26-29). Whatever may come, God’s Kingdom will remain solid. And we are citizens of that Kingdom!

These are my little pea-brained recommendations:

Let’s use these times of “Covid slow-down” to prepare our hearts, de-clutter our lives, and focus on Jesus. Perhaps this time is God’s gift for us in the same way He used the enslavement of Israel to refine a people who would be fit to become His nation.

Be encouraged! Jesus has promised, “I will be with you always”. Whatever comes, we will never be alone. So bring it on! Who would trade the stability of nations for the precious gift of God’s presence?

Pray “Let Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” with greater expectancy and faith than ever before.

Let’s guard our hearts from fear. “Fear not, for I am with you!!” (Isaiah 41:10). In the end we know that God’s glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

“And above all, we ought to love one another deeply.” (1 Peter 4:8). In case you haven’t noticed, hatred and division is outpacing the spread of Covid by a long shot. Let’s not allow ourselves to be swept away with the spirit of the age. Instead, lets draw near to the One who is Love.

Having done these things, I believe we will stand.

Discernment in confusing times.

I recently polled my Facebook friends on whether or not they believed the mainstream narrative about the Coronavirus.  The results were revealing, with a vast majority answering “No”, a few in the affirmative, and another handful admitting they don’t know what to believe.  People are confused.  While some embrace hair-on-fire conspiracies, others are happily acquiescing to the approved experts who inform of ever-changing models and protocols, and warn us to stay put.  

Several have asked about my take on the situation, which is probably worth about as much as a gum-wrapper.  But if turning my thoughts into words might help us look a little less like the Keystone cops, I’m happy to give it a try.

I think we’re facing a double-headed crisis.  On the one hand is an unpredictable and dangerous pandemic, and on the other is a great uncertainty of what to believe about the pandemic.  In a world of so many story lines, we’re all wondering what truth remains when the computer and television screens are switched off. 

Up front, I’m not a conspiracy person.  Conspiracies distract me from the simplicity of Jesus and his Kingdom.  God told Isaiah, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.”  (Isaiah 8:12) Alarmism is being peddled from every direction, from the fear-mongering of the left leaning media, to the fear-mongering of right-leaning conspiracies. That’s not to say there’s no truth in any of it; both sides may indeed contain elements of truth, but fear should never lead the way.  Love is to lead. And as it does, fear will be cast out.   (1 John 4:18)

We Christians believe that the world is a battleground of good and evil, where our enemy strains to enslave and destroy the human race.  On top of that, we also believe that in the last days, (which, according to Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:2 began with the ascension of Jesus), “perilous times will come”, with deceptions, plagues and persecutions.  But these warnings are only footnotes to the good news, not the good news itself.  Disciples of Jesus ought to focus on the main attraction, and not the footnotes.    

My hope is that the church will seize this moment with wisdom and courage, and offer hope to those around us. Nobody knows for certain where this plague will go.  So lets take a deep breath and seek God diligently for discernment as we move forward.  After centuries of shooting ourselves in the foot with our dire prognostications, lets avoid making that mistake one more time around.

Of all the spiritual gifts, I believe discernment is God’s gift for this hour.  Over the years I’ve made a steady habit of praying, “Lord, give me discernment; show me the truth.  Don’t let me fall into conspiracies, empty rumors and foolishness.  Give me clear eyes and insight into the truth.” 

Here are a few humble suggestions I’d put forward:

  • Focus on the good news of Jesus and His Kingdom.
  • Avoid gloom and doom.  (That is certainly not the good news).
  • Cry out daily for discernment, truth, and understanding.
  • Steep yourself in scripture.
  • Cultivate humility, inviting God to challenge and correct your ideas and opinions as needed.
  • Stay prayerfully informed from a variety of news sources, both liberal and conservative, checking them carefully for facts.
  • Honor the Truth, whose name is Jesus, remembering He lives in you.  
  • Let love, not fear, lead the way.

Isolation or investment?

My greatest fear about this Coronavirus is not catching it.  Nor is it a crashed economy, losing my retirement savings or government over-reach.  I suppose any of those things could happen with powerful consequences.  But my greatest fear is that at the end of this extraordinary time of disruption I will not have experienced the full transformation God is trying to work in me.

Just as the prodigal son was changed by his social isolation among the pigs, I believe God wants to change us during these difficult days: challenging our assumptions, exposing our passivity, and supercharging our impact upon the world.  In the distant land the wayward son awakened to his sorry condition, remembered his father’s kindness, and realized that he was squandering his life in a dead-end routine among pigs. 

We were born to change the world; every one of us, or perhaps more precisely to make a Kingdom difference in the little portion of the world around us.  C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Enemy occupied territory, that is what this world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed… and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”   (Or… if you prefer Kanye West, “We were born into a broken world, and we are the cleanup crew.”)

The question I keep returning to day-after-isolating-day is, “What am I doing at this moment to make a difference in the world?”  These exceptional times are not for treading water or entertaining ourselves until the coffeeshops, churches and restaurants open again.  These long hours are God’s gift to us; a “time out” to consider our ways, our purpose, and the imprint we could be leaving upon the world. 

It pains me to think I’ve had a slow start in coming fully on board, but I’m engaging this morning in what may be the latter days of our confinement, hoping I’ve not squandered too much precious time.    

Updating this blog is one response I’m making this morning.  What are some of the actions God is calling you to?  

Perfect Harmony

Back in 1971, the New Seekers recorded a commercial jingle for Coca Cola, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony. It became one of the most influential TV ads in history, and an expanded version, (dropping the Coke references), rose to the top of popular charts all over the world.  The tune was lilting, but it was the lyrics that captured the imagination of the young.

I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms, and keep it company.
I’d like to see the world for once, all standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills for peace throughout the land.

The song tapped into the heart of a troubled world and a generation at war with itself, giving voice to hopes and dreams programmed into our primordial DNA by the Creator Himself.  Without doubt, the entire human race is longing for a world in tune with itself; a world of perfect harmony. 

But perfect harmony doesn’t just happen; It takes the long, skillful work of composers, arrangers, conductors, musicians and instrument tuners.  And it’s the same in the Kingdom. Jesus gives us the master pitch, and brings us into tune with Himself: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus our Lord has done for us.”   (Romans 5;1) But that’s only the beginning, the tune-up note for the symphonic beauty which follows: “Peace on earth, goodwill towards all men.” 

As we step into 2020 we find ourselves in a discordant world of political bickering, divisive opinion, finger-pointing, and contempt. I pray that each of us would refocus our lives on the Prince of Peace, the Master of perfect harmony; learning his ways of honor, love, and respect. Disagreements are inevitable; ugliness is optional. May our discipleship lead us into that world we’re all dreaming of.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the sons of God.”
Matthew 5:9

Why do so few understand the Kingdom?

Today I’m reading in Luke 8:10 “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables…”  Almost every time I stand before a class I find a small group of students who gladly receive the Kingdom and walk away changed to the core of their being. Revelation does that; it rearranges the furniture of our soul.

But there is almost always another group who remains oblivious and unchanged, as if they cannot see what others are seeing.  I’ve often expressed my frustrated wonder that the entire class isn’t left standing on their chairs rejoicing and demanding to hear more glad news of the Kingdom. 

I think the key to these two groups may be found in our posture towards Jesus.  In nearly every group of Believers there will be a portion who are after God for what he will do for them.  In the Gospels we see crowds of the curious pressing on Jesus for miracles, healing, and bread in the wilderness.  Skye Jethani refers to these as believers who are living “from God.”  These beloved people see God as their butler and therapist, ever attentive to their own happiness, their own well-being, their own health, wealth, and desires.  And our gracious God often obliges them, (like the crowds in the wilderness), by meeting their needs.  But their relationship with Him is little more than what Jethani calls “consumerism with a Jesus sticker slapped on it.”  These are the ones for whom parables will have to suffice. 

But there are others, disciples who have left everything to be WITH Jesus, to apprentice themselves to Him because of who he IS.  These are the ones who are given eyes to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom, who are gifted with revelation into the nature of reality and Truth. When the crowds turned away and Jesus asked his disciples if they would leave as well, Peter answered , “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”  (John 6:68).

It’s up to each of us to classify ourselves: will I be a part of the crowd who presses on Jesus for what He offers me, or will I be a disciple who sees no other possibility but Him?

Mandela’s Garden

Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison for the crime of promoting a color-blind nation. It was a sentence that ripped him from his family, career, and community, and confined him behind concrete walls on a guarded island.

He passed his last eighteen years imprisoned on Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. While others might have been broken by such a sentence, Mandela was no ordinary man. Hope sustained him as he transformed his prison cell into a school room and a corner of the prison yard into a garden. It was his way of taking the little desert he’d been given and turning it into a bit of Eden. Day after day he tended his garden, faithfully watering, pruning, weeding, and cultivating until he possessed a little chunk of paradise right there in the midst of a penal wasteland. And God Himself surely watched him and decided He could use a man like that.

This is our call. We’ve each been entrusted with a personal little fiefdom that consists of our relationships, gifts, talents, possessions, vocation and time. For some it is a humble place, rocky and poor while others have been entrusted with riches and influence. Regardless, we each have the opportunity to work our little plot and develop it into a garden of beauty, order and abundance. This is what disciples of Jesus do.

And this is how great kingdoms are born: when the “underlords” of smaller lands and fiefdoms band together and pledge their allegiance to a sovereign, then all those little territories are knitted together into a great kingdom. God’s kingdom is no different. Even if our little world feels limited and poor, we can each work the ground we’ve been given, and bring our works to the Lord. And as we do, bit by bit the earth begins to shine with God’s glory. Are you faithfully tending your garden today?

The State of creation Address

Last week we were treated to the president’s State of the Union Address before live television and a joint session of Congress.  Donald Trump brought us up to speed on the progress we’ve made in areas of economy, employment, defense, border security, and foreign relations.  And he reminded us of the work that still needs to be done, calling all Americans to unite for the common good of the nation.

I wonder if maybe we could use a “State of the Creation Address.”  Of course Jesus – our Servant King – would be the one to deliver this important speech.  He might tell us about the progress we’ve made in feeding the poor and lifting them out of their poverty (1), of the innovation and creativity of the human race, of the progress we have made in healthcare and medical research, and of the growing peace and stability among the nations. (2)  Yes!  All these things are true!  He might mention that life expectancy and freedom are on the rise across the world, and that faithful missionaries are pushing deeper and deeper into the most unreached places on our planet, translating scriptures and planting churches of happily redeemed people. 

But then he would certainly remind us that much is yet to be done: that vast populations struggle under oppressive belief systems, that human trafficking still flourishes and millions of unborn babies are being murdered every year in their mother’s wombs while divorce, greed and crime deface his beloved people.  He might lament our political hostilities, or the plague of ignorance that stubbornly holds many in bondage.  And I’m pretty sure He would remind us that we truly are our brother’s keeper and that there are dozens of broken people within walking distance who still haven’t heard the good news of His glorious reign!  

In the end, I feel sure our compassionate King would remind us that He still loves his world, and has delightful plans for it’s redemption.  “For as truly as I live”, (He might say), “my glory WILL fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.  So let us redouble our efforts to see the work finished.  With prayer and faithfulness we CAN do this together because I am with you even to the end of the age.”