Friday, January 19, 2018

How do I live in God's Kingdom TODAY?

Most days, I try to begin the morning in quiet time with God. You'll see an explanation of how I approach quiet time here. Below is the journal entry for today's quiet time.

Look: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus brings the kingdom of God. He embodies it. He is its king. Jesus is saying here, I think: “You’ve been looking for the kingdom of God. Here it is. And if you want to be part of it, you need to do two things. First, turn away from your sins and trust in the forgiveness I bring from God. That’s what it means to repent. Second, trust in or believe in the gospel. The gospel is the good news that all who trust in God’s Son, crucified and risen for us, is part of God’s kingdom.”

And when is someone part of God’s kingdom? NOW. The kingdom will come in its fullness, of course, when Jesus returns to the earth, closing down this old creation, and those who have trusted in Him rise to be with Him eternally in His new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). But the kingdom has already come to us. When we repent and believe in Jesus, we are in the kingdom now.

Jesus says in John 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

And He says in Luke 17:21, that “...the kingdom of God is in your midst."

Listen: How do I live in Your kingdom now, Lord?

In the high priestly prayer offered in the garden before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14-15)

It’s Jesus’ will for His disciples to live in the world while not being of the world. We are to be cordial and loving toward the world, but when its worship, values, actions, thoughts, and approach to justice conflict with those of God’s kingdom, we’re to stand with Christ. To manifest the kingdom of God today, we must be in but not of the world.

This is hard.

But I have several important resources to rely on when it comes to being in but not of the world.

Jesus mentions one of them in this petition of the prayer: God’s Word. Spending time in God’s Word is essential. Otherwise, my brain gets addled and I go to the default position of my sinful, human nature. Spending the first hours of my day Fox and Friends or Morning Joe will help me live in the kingdom. (Help me to remember this, Lord.)

But this will only happen, I think, if my reading of God’s Word is begun, filled with, and supported by the very thing that Jesus did in the garden. He prayed. I must pray. Prayer is a conversation in which I connect with God. When I ask God to show me what I need to see in His Word, I find that I see lots more of God and His will for my life than I would if I approached it as a reading assignment.

These are two private resources God gives to us to buttress kingdom-living, to foster our own growth as disciples.

But God also makes me part of the body of Christ, the indispensable Christian community.

People who profess faith Christ but don’t want to have anything to do with the messy business of being part of His family, the Church, are at risk of becoming lost sheep who wander away from Christ and His kingdom. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

We are made for life in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). When the kingdom of God comes fully, we will be part of an eternal kingdom that lives out the great commandment, a fellowship in which we love God and love others.

Other Christians may annoy us, offend us, even harm us. But we need Christ’s body, the Church.

It’s in the body of Christ that we hear God’s Word, not always as we want to hear it, but as read and proclaimed; we receive the sacraments, in which God claims us as His own (Holy Baptism) and which renews us and fills us with Christ’s very life (Holy Communion); we commit ourselves to mutual care and accountability.

Respond: As I think about how I can manifest my citizenship in God’s kingdom right now, I ask, Lord, that You will help me:

1. Express love for my fellow citizens of the kingdom today.

2. Look for opportunities to share Christ with those who seem to live outside of the kingdom.

3. Seek justice for those who are abused or left behind by the world’s system of warped values.

4. Treat others with simple decency.

Help me in these ways, Lord Jesus, to live as one saved by Your gospel and so prove to be an ambassador in this foreign land in which I live on this side of the resurrection (1 Peter 2:11-12; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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