[This post was written for another audience for a specific occasion, but the message is universal]
Today in class [name redacted] asked for our thoughts on one kind of impact of using and stewarding our spiritual gifts: “using and stewarding your gifts to be a living parable to announce the Kingdom of God on Earth.” There was a discussion, and I told myself I would take some time today to write the thoughts I was having.[Name redacted] pointed out that the examples he gave only included people with great positions of influence. Perhaps we need to explore how people who stand to lose their jobs can stand up for the Kingdom. I want to open with a story that came to mind immediately.
A “living parable announcing the Kingdom”
I know someone who was a nurse when she was younger and was required to work on Sundays (kind of like Eric Little from Chariots of Fire). This situation bothered her conscience, so she asked God what to do. God said where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is, and that she can have church time just as sweet at the hospital than being off Sunday morning. So on Sundays she brought a Bible and would just have a message and pray with people. She realized they couldn’t go to church on Sunday anyway – they were a captive audience! Together they had incredible “church” simply because the presence of God was invited. Her boss said she couldn’t do that at the hospital, but she said she would anyway. So her boss said to just close the door when she did it.
Other times pregnant teenagers came needing counseling and services, and her job was to report to them all their options, including abortion. She refused. Her boss said she had to leave her faith behind her and just do her job, but she said, “I am my values. Wherever I go my values go with me.” So again, her boss let her continue and said to just close the door. She would love on the young women and give them every option except abortion. Lives were saved, and the teenagers received real care.
This young nurse could have easily lost her job, but she believed God could provide another one. But if instead she had compromised, then those moments when the Kingdom would shine would be lost. A job is more replaceable than God’s presence for particular people at particular times who need to know His love!
I’m reminded that Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will added to you.” Jobs can be replaced, comforts delayed, and needs provided just in time, but the Kingdom coming on March 4th because of the exercise of your gifts – that moment can be lost forever. God gives us grace for the Kingdom to also come on March 5th, and 6th, and so on… but the opportunities to be “living parables” for particular people at particular times are rare and precious.
What are we seeking first?
In our culture, it appears to me that eternal salvation is the main point of American Christianity. It’s the reason people find value in Jesus, why we invest in religion, and how we frame the whole Christian life. But to Jesus the Kingdom of God (not eternal salvation) is the main point. It’s what He talked about the most. Cleansing from sin, overcoming the enemy, no longer walking according to the flesh, abundant life, persecution, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and other promises spoken by Jesus are supposed to be the common, normal reality for the Christian.
I have not yet had a visible impact for the Kingdom over many years like the young nurse did in only a few, partly because I have largely lived in alignment with the expectations of the world around me. God has revealed himself to me in very real ways, and I have expected the Holy Spirit to work through me to impact the world. I haven’t seen much happen yet, though. But what has the world to see different in my life without me living fully for the Kingdom? There’s no contrast! “If salt loses its saltiness…”
The truth is that I do live according to Kingdom principles, but I started under the lie in my culture that my life with God had to be confined to my personal life until others believed as I did. Once someone else shares my worldview, then I’ll share mine transparently, and we’ll live in God’s Kingdom in our own little world. It’s like being a lamp that refuses to shine except in a room that’s already bright.
I grew up in the American church, which has Bibles that say “seek first eternal salvation, and all these things shall be added unto you…” We’re so focused on being comfortable enough and good enough through this life to be holy in heaven at some point, that we’re missing the main message that God wants us to be a city on a hill right now. The Kingdom of God is here!
We need to know God’s principles for living, and be willing to live them at [our church], at work, at [the local grocery store], while driving, and in our home. The stories [the speaker] told involved people who knew that in the Kingdom, the poor aren’t exploited. That’s one characteristic of the Kingdom out of many. Those business owners chose to prioritize the Kingdom before short-term profits.
Holy Spirit, am I prioritizing anything now over Your Kingdom?
Where’s the disconnection?
Western culture currently has one anomaly from most others in history: our culture as a whole has lost hope in finding an integrated worldview that answers questions and gives meaning. Almost every culture on Earth believes that what they believe is really real, and it answers the basic questions of life. But we’re steeped in an unseen division between meaning and reality. If it’s meaningful, it can’t be objectively real, and I can’t communicate it to other people or even to myself. I just feel it. Or if I can explain it, it’s not eternally meaningful. It’s just mechanical.
The seeds for this division between meaning and reality, and between private spiritual life and public “real” life, were planted in the 1700s and reached completion by the 1940s. The societal changes of the 1960s we’re familiar with were only a natural outworking of the cultural shift that had already finished.
Satan has effectively neutered the church in the west with this division, so that we cannot communicate truth to unbelievers, and then to our own children, and finally even to ourselves. If we’re comfortable enough to live a Christian life within our confines defined by the surrounding culture, then the enemy has no problem laying a long siege to the Judeo-Christian era established for 2000 years by people who allowed God’s Kingdom to work like yeast through every sphere of society.
But it has only taken a couple centuries to remove God’s presence in Western culture from having influence over life where it is actually lived. God is doing much today to repair that breach, but the chasm is still very real within us and the church at large.
It takes a “whole” life to announce the Kingdom of God. You can’t do it with just your words, or just the way you raise your kids, or the way you love your spouse (though these are all helpful). Jesus’ life living within you will naturally “burn” all through you unless you inhibit it.
John Wesley said that people will come for miles to see you burn (to see God’s zeal in you). You can’t have just an arm or a leg burning. By natural law, the rest burns too. So it is with gifts from the Holy Spirit. If you have a gift of encouraging people with God’s truth, you’ll use it within the church and outside the church as the Spirit prompts. But too often we’re limiting God’s life to the confines defined by our culture to keep His work private and unintelligible to outsiders until they’re insiders by some unknown, never-reached miracle.
What can we do?
There can’t be any division between who we are in public and in private – not only does no else see God’s love, but even the private spiritual life dies! Eradicate the boundary – it doesn’t come from God. Learn God’s culture, how His Kingdom works, and live it as if it’s real. Keep what’s Godly in American culture, discard the rest, and shine the light of God in every dark place where His presence is missing.
Will we require solid answers to intellectual concerns we have with Christianity? Yes, and that’s fine! God doesn’t want people to take a “leap of faith,” because then our minds don’t come with us. Will living this way require real emotional healing? Yes, and that’s fine! God is there, He is speaking, and He really does love us and wipes every tear. Will Kingdom living require work? Carrying our cross daily? Risk? Yes, yes, and yes. Is it hard? It’s the hard when there’s conflict in us and division in our hearts toward God. It’s easier than the alternative of carrying our own selves. God’s yoke really is easy.
Will seeing the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord (Rev. 11:15) require incredible love, hope, and faith? Yes! It will take time and sacrifice, but the quickest and easiest way there is to start now. We might not see the fruit of it in our lifetimes. The heroes of Hebrews 11 didn’t.
The Bible becomes a lot more exciting when you believe you might be doing what you read within a few hours. It’s easier to remember when it changes what you do, and you openly talk with people about it whether they’ll agree with you or not. [Name of senior pastor redacted] says it’s a fun test of faith open the Bible to a random paragraph and promise to do what’s actually there. Methodism flourished and was persecuted because they believed God’s holiness was meant for every believer here in this life.
We don’t intentionally look for ways to contrast with the world for the sake of contrast. So long as it is in our power, we live in peace with all men. But if we live like the Author of our faith, contrast and opportunities to announce God’s Kingdom will come (slowly at first, then daily!). How does a perfect man live in the modern world?
“We have seen only one [perfect] man. And he was not at all like the psychologist’s picture of the integrated, balanced, adjusted, happily married, employed popular citizen. You can’t really be very well ‘adjusted’ to your world if it says you have a devil and ends by nailing you up naked to a stake of wood.”
CS Lewis, The Four Loves
Jesus showed us what life looks like when the Kingdom is here. I want my life to be normal in God’s eyes and “radical” in the world’s. And when the church together lives with a “Kingdom mindset,” we’ll surely be “a peculiar people.”
If we’re refusing to actually live like God’s standards and the Holy Spirit’s gifts matter on March 4, 2015, then are we not refusing the salvation God has given?
The salvation I received when God became real to me was that God saved me eternally, cleansed me from sin, and filled me with His Spirit to live differently. All that is true, but not the whole truth. The salvation God offers is to live by His life, by His power, for His purposes, in the place and time I’m planted. He’ll build His Kingdom off of my yielded life (I don’t have to build it!). I have to choose whether or not to wholeheartedly pursue that transformative salvation in the situations and pressures I’m seeing right now.