Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Seeking First" for Dummies

Iran is a country that gets plenty of attention these days. Up until 1979, Iran’s form of government was a monarchy or a kingdom. And, the word for “king” in Iran is “Shah.” The last king or Shah of Iran was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. And, on February 11, 1979, he lost the throne as a result of the Iranian Revolution. In fear of losing his life, he left Iran to go into exile. While in exile, he lived in different countries, never to return to the kingdom that once crowned him king. He was a king without citizens. And, on July 27, 1980, he died without a kingdom. If you are a Christian, do you fully realize that you have a King? Or, is the concept of a kingdom somewhat foreign to you? Do you know what it means to have a King daily command you? Does the concept of a Kingdom truly have an impact on your daily life? Can you describe God’s Kingdom to someone else? Can you differentiate God's Kingdom from religion? Since God is a literal King and takes His Kingdom pretty seriously, we can’t afford to not understand what it means to operate in a Kingdom today and every day. After all, ignoring the one we call King is not an option.

The topic of "God's Kingdom" is discussed by Jesus and others over 75 times in the New Testament alone. Clearly, this is the most important topic to Jesus. Because He is God and King over His Kingdom, what could be more important to Him? So, it is just as important that we today understand what His Kingdom is and how both the Church and we individually must operate in it. The problem in the Western hemisphere is that we don’t have prominent kingdoms nearby to observe in order to better understand what “Kingdom” means or how to behave in one on a daily basis.

Jesus did not come to Earth to establish a religion. He came to establish a Kingdom. In America, our form of government is a Democracy. And, a Kingdom operates extremely different from a Democracy. Despite all the claims made between American political parties, Jesus does not favor Republicans or Democrats. Jesus is a monarch, a King that stands above all of that. In fact, John 18:37 records an interesting exchange between Pilate and Jesus, "Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’" Jesus was born for this reason and we were born to serve Him. But, I think far too many "christians" prefer religion over submission.

According to the dictionary, a Kingdom is “the governing influence of a king over his territory, impacting it with his personal will, purpose, and intent, producing a culture, values, morals, and lifestyle that reflect the king’s desires and nature for his citizens.” Is that our mindset towards our King? If the King owneverything, how does that change the way you look at material needs and wants? Since the King commanded that we expand His Kingdom on Earth, how are we doing following the King’s command? Maybe we need to get back to Kingdom basics. 

Kingdoms have a King. But, they also have Lords, Governors, citizens, heirs, military, domain, Constitutions, and property, just to name a few of its components. Instead of reading these italicized words like we do in our democratic cultural mindset, evaluate them in the mindset of a Kingdom and our thinking radically changes. Below, we will take each of these Kingdom concepts and reveal from the Bible how they are defined in God’s Kingdom:

·        The King? Jesus Christ (John 18:37, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Lord? Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:11, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Governor? The Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Citizens? His Church (Ephesians 2:19, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Heirs? His Children (Galatians 4:7, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Military? Angels (2 Kings 6:15-17, etc.)
·        The King’s Domain? Everyone and everything (Philippians 2:10, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Constitution? The Bible (Psalms 119, etc.)
·        The King’s Property? Everything (Psalms 24:1-2, etc.)

On that last item concerning property, I was personally born into an Earthly Kingdom, in the Bahamas. Before its independence, Bahamas was a British Commonwealth nation. I have memories as a child of visits by Queen Elizabeth. Our family understood that she owned everything. She had every right to come up to our house and declare it to be her personal residence, thereby kicking us out. That is what it means for the King and Queen to own everything. And, that should change the way we think about King Jesus.

Not only should these concepts radically transform our thinking, but also our behaviors towards others and Church. Through these concepts, we quickly realize that God’s Kingdom and the Church are not equal. The Church is a central part of God’s Kingdom. And, the Church’s mission is to bear witness to God’s Kingdom. The Church is God’s tool through which His Kingdom acts. For example, what would God’s Kingdom be like without the Church? Since the Church are the Kingdom’s citizens, without it God would preside over a Kingdom without citizens, similar to the late Shah of Iran. This is yet another reason why God’s Church is so dearly loved by its King. While God does not need us, He has chosen to make us His citizens and His children, ultimately heirs to His Kingdom.

So how is the Church to operate within the Kingdom of God? Are we individually operating as we should? In Matthew 6:33, King Jesus gave us this command and promise, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Have you ever read that verse and pondered how abstract it seems to “seek” God’s Kingdom? How do you seek a Kingdom? Is there a spiritual GPS or map that helps us find it? If the Kingdom is “in the midst” of us (Luke 17:20-21), then why must it be sought? If this is not totally clear, then how can we even begin to follow this command? How can you “seek” His Kingdom? Can you seek God’s Kingdom while ignoring or avoiding His Church? Can you seek God’s Kingdom without being “active” in God’s Church? Answering these questions begins and ends with understanding Kingdom. Using Kingdom understanding, I offer you  this simple guidance to answer all of these questions: For the non-believer, “seek” truly means “search”; but, for Christians, “seek” means “build.”

In Ephesians 2, we read, For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:10, 19-22)

Look closely at the italicized words in the above passages to determine what they have in common. What they have in common is a “building” or construction theme. God is building His Kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven. To do this He is actively building up and advancing the body of Christ, His Church. He is building His Church in order to dwell in His Church as His Holy Temple. And Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone. So, the best way for Christians to “seek” God’s Kingdom is to “build” His Church. And, using the building theme and people as stones, there are two things you can do to “build” His Church. (1) You can add stones (people) to the structure, or (2) strengthen or fortify the stones (people) that are already in the structure. Robert Short said, “The church is the great lost and found department.” And, C. Stacey Woods said, “The Church is an organism that grows best in an alien society.”

For those who prefer a lighter theme than construction, think of it like painting an impressionist painting. Impressionism is a form of artistic painting that became popular in the 1800s. Claude Monet is often credited with being a pioneer of this art form. You can recognize an impressionist painting by the fact that up close, the painting looks like no defined picture at all. Instead, it just looks like random brush strokes or dots. There is no attention to detail or fine lines. But, when you step away from the painting, the picture (or the impression of the picture) emerges. This is similar to the Church. When you look up close, you might see random and imperfect dots. But, when you step back and look at the Church from God’s vantage point, you see a glorious and beautiful Bride! And, by the way, for those either outside or even inside the Church, I have another piece of advice: don’t ever criticize the Bride of a King, especially the King of the universe. He may be benevolent, but He is also powerfully just.

Whatever God does in the world, He does through each and every one of His children. Nobody can be left out of the living and telling of the Gospel story. God is telling His story of grace through each and every one of Christ’s followers. No one is insignificant in this task. And, no one is dispensable or too young. Dwight Smith said, “Every single story of how each Christ follower came to grace is another unique brush stroke on God’s painting called Grace.” And, there is no more beautiful work of art known. 

So, for those searching for something significant to do with their lives of lasting importance, what could be greater than seeking (building) the eternal Kingdom of God?