Category Archives: The Kingdom

The Rapture or the Kingdom?

As a newborn believer The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey was the first Christian book I ever read.  Bursting with images of growing darkness, the mark of the Beast, and a living hell under the wrath of the Antichrist, it scared the crap out of me.  No sooner had I received the glad news of salvation than I was body-slammed by terrifying projections of what was about to break loose on our doomed planet.

But the gospel of the Kingdom is “good news of great joy to all people“, and those who see the end times through the whole lens of scripture understand that the hope set before us isn’t terrifying at all; It is the expectancy of a Glorious Kingdom filling the earth in these last days. “For as surely as I live, says the Lord, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” (Habakkuk 2:-4)

Three weeks ago in Eastern Europe a student, (a pastor in a local church), raised his hand and asked, “How long has Youth With A Mission been teaching this new idea about the Kingdom?”  Do you see?  The Kingdom has become a suspicious “new” doctrine while the extra-Biblical idea of the “rapture” is embraced as the storyline of our future. Never mind that the Kingdom has been a Biblical promise passed down from the prophets to Jesus, the Apostles, Saint Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and the Reformers.

Rather, it’s the “rapture of the church” that’s a strange new doctrine.  Introduced in the 1830s by the Scottish Pastor John Nelson Darby, and adopted by C.I. Schofield in his famous Bible notes, this idea  has done unspeakable damage to the church, the world, and the lives of Christians worldwide.  From The Late Great Planet Earth to seventeen installments of Left Behind, the rapture has robbed us of our future, our relevance, and our witness.

Our fathers in the faith would never have recognized this nightmarish idea that re-energizes the Devil and steals the legacy of our children.  If the next event on God’s calendar is the “snatching away of the saints” and a world plundered by the Antichrist, then it becomes a fool’s errand to work for justice, reconciliation, and transformed cities and nations.

For years I had great “faith” for wars, destruction, and a coming hell on earth.  I wasted so much time worrying about the mark of the beast and the latest incarnation of the Antichrist.  How I wish someone would have sat me down as a young believer and said, “Don… this is not the good news of the Kingdom.  This is a Trojan horse that steals the beautiful hope of the gospel.”

The scriptures plainly teach that Jesus is returning for His Kingdom. But living in the expectancy of an earth overrun by darkness stands in direct contradiction to the Lord’s own promise of His glory filling the earth.  Today I am living in the hope of glory.

The compelling power of beauty

In my last post I wrote about the imperative of restoring beauty to the Christian Gospel. Common people flocked to hear Jesus not only because his words were beautiful: “Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile;” but even more so because his life was beautiful. God himself had stepped into human flesh and was living among us as a lover of outcasts, a healer of broken people, and a perfect reflection of His heavenly Father.

It’s impossible to read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman taken in adultery without feeling the awesome beauty of this sinful woman finding forgiveness before she even asked. That was Jesus – the Word become flesh. But the incarnation continues in his disciples, the word is still becoming flesh in us, or at least it ought to be. The true follower of Jesus will always be looking more like his master.

Has Jesus called us to change the world through politics? No! Has he commanded us to go into all nations pointing out sin? No! Has he commissioned us to argue the world into faith on Internet discussion boards? No! But this is our call: “…as He is, so also are we in this world.” (John 4:17) Our call is to be like Him; to be beautiful like Him.

“You are the light of the world! A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16). In a world as dark as ours, a beautiful shining city will draw multitudes into its gates.

Beauty gone missing

Theologians and philosophers in the West have hosted a thousand-year discussion on the absolutes of Goodness, Truth and Beauty. This Trinity of virtues has suffered a severe blow in today’s postmodern world, but Beauty – I believe – has suffered most.

In my lifetime the church has sponsored well-known crusades to champion absolute Goodness to our neighbors. We have mobalized over morals, vocalized over vices, and sermonized over sin. And while there’s no question absolute goodness demands warning our neighbors about transgressions, that in itself isn’t enough.

More recently we’ve begun to re-embrace absolute Truth. Thousands of websites now defend the Truth of the Faith, the Truth of our condition, and the Truth of Scriptures.  Ever since Josh McDowell published his 1972 bestseller Evidence that Demands a Verdict, the church has made a slow comeback in offering solid defenses for the One who is the Foundation of all Truth.

But our greatest failure, I believe, is in our neglect of absolute Beauty. To present a God who stoops, who humbly enters our darkness and takes our sins and sorrows upon himself, who suffers, dies and forgives … this is where we fail. Because beauty doesn’t lend itself well to words; it must become flesh and modeled among us. The tragic truth is that picketing, judging, debating, and boycotting are often more at home in today’s church than love, service, forgiveness, and humility. When a Mother Theresa occasionally enters the world of dying lepers or when a black congregation in Charleston forgives the white man who turned their Bible study into a massacre, the world sits up and catches it’s breath. But sadly these scenes are mostly rare, exceptional glimpses of Christian beauty.

The Gospel of the Kingdom is not only Good and True, but it is also Beautiful. Yet any Gospel presented apart from the beauty of a humble, dying God is incomplete and stunted.  In a world of offense, judgment, and fragmentation perhaps it’s time we began asking, “Are my Facebook posts beautiful?” “Are my protests and boycots beautiful?” “Are my political opinions beautiful?” If they are not, then maybe it’s time we backed away and examined our hearts, because our first and most powerful mission to the world is to reflect the beauty of our King.

“You will… be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”
Isaiah 62:3

Jesus, politics, and hope

Whenever God’s people resisted Him in Bible-times He would often “turn them over” to their enemies, their idols, or their own obstinate ideas.  And then He would wait until reality sufficiently chastised them and sent them running back to Him. It’s a pattern we see throughout scripture from Israel’s wandering in the wilderness to Jesus’ story of the prodigal.  Reality has a way of turning us towards home

I believe we’re seeing this pattern at work today as God “turns us over” to the false god of power-politics.  If you’re anything like me, you may be wondering if we have any truly good and beautiful choices in the upcoming elections.

The Christian church, (myself included), has had an long unnatural infatuation with politics. We have placed our hopes in elections and trusted men to turn the world rightside-up again. But hope rooted in the political process is misplaced, empty, and idolatrous. And now that we’ve reached the endgame our idol is failing us because politicsthe exercise of power – has no place in the Kingdom of the crucified One.

Jesus went to great trouble to show us a kingdom that would operate on a radically different axis than the kingdom of Caesar.  His Kingdom would be:

  • A place where the poor would be blessed.
  • Mourners would find comfort.
  • The meek would be rewarded.
  • Those who yearn for the world to be made right would not be disappointed.
  • Mercy would rule the day.
  • The pure-hearted would see God.
  • And peacemakers would be known as God’s children.

Not exactly a description of our political conventions!  But the encouraging thing is that we have – hopefully – hit the wall.  Many are awakening to the fact that this political circus feels much like “feeding pigs in a distant land.”  And maybe, just maybe the stench is becoming noxious enough to turn our faces back to the Servant-King who is already seated on the Throne.


PS: Please don’t think I’m encouraging you to refrain from casting an informed vote in November.  We need to exercise every influence we have.  But we must not put our trust in politics.  It is a fading, fallen system that will soon be obsolete. 

Orlando, religion and the Kingdom

Awakening to the news of last Sunday’s terrorist attack in Orlando, I felt awash with grief, alarm, and dread: Grief for the lives that were cut short, alarm that ISIS had struck again within our borders, and dread for the divisiveness that religious-political narratives would almost certainly generate on social media and the airwaves.  But I determined to withhold my thoughts until my head was clear enough to hear from God’s broken heart.

There were two very different responses from the so-called evangelical community. (I say “so-called” because the word “evangelical” connotes one with a message of “good news”, and not all evangelicals actually proclaim good news).  One small minority jumped into poisonous judgments towards those who have lost their way in darkness.  They impugned the name of Jesus by the hateful and callous statements they made in his name.

But a totally opposite response came from the Orlando Chik fil-A restaurants who fired up their kitchens on Sunday afternoon to feed the lines of people waiting to give blood for the victims.

Religion and the Kingdom almost always end up in conflict.   You can see this in full display in the gospel of Luke, when a group of Samaritans, (a people already condemned for their pagan beliefs and practices), reject Jesus himself as he entered their village.  The (religious) disciples were indignant: “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them”, they asked?  But their very question almost seems to have confused Jesus.  “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”  (Luke 9:55-56).

Did you catch that?  The Son of God himself resisted the way of judgment.  And so should we.

The distinguishing mark of a true disciple is not the purity of his doctrine, nor the passion of his judgments, but the fullness of his love.  “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.” 1 John 4:16-17

Three stages of discipleship

Becoming a disciple of Jesus is not rocket science. At it’s core there are just three basic stages for the serious follower to experience: Believe, love, and serve.  stepping-stones-2

We enter into the Kingdom, and the life with Jesus by making a decision to believe He is who he says he is. “…That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” What is it, you might wonder, that we are called to believe about Jesus? That He is the Christ: God living in human flesh to redeem the world from darkness, sin, and death. He is the Way out of our fallenness, and the Life that manifests itself in a fullness of being that remains inconceivable to the mere biological man.

The next stage of discipleship is to become the sort of person God had in mind from the beginning: a person who loves from the heart.  It was said of the early church, “Behold how they love one another!” “My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us – perfect love!” (1 John 4:11-12) A true Disciple is identified by his love.  Unfortunately, today’s church is often known more for our judgments and divisions.  Thus our witness has been shipwrecked before a watching world.

But if we progress this far we have but one more stage in the journey: we must embrace servanthood. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.” (John 13:13). The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of servants, each of whom reflects the humility of their servant-King.

The world awaits our discipleship. Only when the followers of Jesus begin to fully mirror him in faith, love, and serving will this broken planet truly behold the beauty of the gospel.

The forgotten call

Barnes and Nobel has a way of firing me up.  I just finished searching the Christian life section of one store here in Charlotte looking for a book, any book about the Kingdom of God. There were exactly zero.  I checked with the clerk to be sure I wasn’t overlooking something. “I’m sorry, we don’t seem to have anything like that”, she replied.   “And how many books do you have about ‘Heaven’?”  I asked.  “It looks like we have about one hundred twenty different titles in stock.” Those of you who know me realize that this is one of my hot buttons. Why the big deal, you might ask?  Because the Kingdom is THE message of Jesus, and because this unhealthy fixation on heaven guts the power of his message. Take discipleship, for example:

In the late eighteenth century when the gospel of the Kingdom was replaced by the “good news” of the “minimum requirements for heaven”, spiritual transformation was relegated to the optional, a laborious pursuit meant only for the serious-minded. Well-intentioned believers could rest in the assurance that, “I’m saved by grace. I know where I’m going when I die.” Well… if that’s the point of the gospel, then there is absolutely no need for the troublesome work of discipleship!

Heaven-oriented Christianity has little in common with the rugged call of Jesus to follow in his steps as disciples. Having bought the ticket, it only remains to hold on to our faith until the hour of death. On the contrary, Kingdom-centered faith recognizes the task before us: to become more and more like Jesus, and to bring His influence to bear on everything around us.

“Conversion is the miracle of a moment;
Discipleship is the labor of a lifetime.”
– E. Stanley Jones

Discipleship belongs to the Kingdom like food belongs to the living. Jesus’ gospel begins at the ground-zero of each converted heart and spreads into everything we touch until the world shines with His glory. It’s not enough to be saved – we must be changed! Conversion is no longer seen as the end-point of the message, but the doorway into a life of grace that moves every follower into a lifelong process of spiritual transformation. In a world torn apart, the only hope for the nations will be seen when believers become disciples and begin to walk as Jesus walked. (1 John 2:6).