GUEST POST: On Faith, Fire, and the Kingdom of God by Luke Harms

As I sit in my comfortable townhome, typing on my aged but still fully capable MacBook Pro, streaming old episodes of The Office on an aging plasma TV (one that, while not the newest, fanciest model still could probably fetch the equivalent of a year’s wages for one of the factory workers that assembled it), I can’t help but face one simple reality:

I am the problem.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I talk a mean game for an armchair activist. Injustice makes me uncomfortable, maybe even a little angry, but not enough to actually change the way that I live my life. Sure, I’ve changed the way that I talk, but if I may invoke that most classic of cliché’s: talk is cheap.

For me, it’s especially cheap. Words and ideas are my job, my hobby, my life, but you know what? They don’t cost me anything. I can talk myself into a corner and talk myself right back out again without ever putting any real skin into the game.

There’s a story in 2 Samuel where God directs David to build an altar and make a sacrifice. A citizen offers to give David wood and oxen for his sacrifice, but David replies with what has become another (unfortunately) common cliché:

“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God offerings that cost me nothing.”

These words, these ideas, these silver-tongued pleas for justice spoken from the comfortable confines of the high hill of privilege, are the sacrifices that cost me nothing, and they seem to burn hottest when fueled by my own righteous indignation. In the end, it’s all the same. They’re consumed, and nothing is left but the echoes and the ashes. But there is life left in those charred remains. Somewhere in all of those words and ideas there lies the foundation for a Kingdom unlike any other, a Kingdom whose watchword is Love and whose Prince is Peace.

It’s the Kingdom I’ve become particularly adept at talking about, and even better at avoiding actually living out. I have forgotten, or perhaps more accurately ignored, Christ’s parting word to his disciples to go and do.

So here I am. I’m still sitting in this townhome. I’m still typing words on my MacBook Pro, and The Office is still playing on the TV, so has anything really changed? I guess I’m not really sure, but every fire starts with a tiny spark.

Maybe this is the spark.

Maybe it’s time to burn it all down.

Luke is an ENFP who hates writing bio’s in the 3rd person. He’s an analyst to pay the bills (a constant challenge for his non-linear brain), but his real passions revolve around being married to Jill, and raising Thing One (Ethan, 3) and Thing Two (Asher, 1). He writes over at Living in the Tension (sporadically, due to the demands of the aforementioned Things) where he wrestles with everything from faith to family to philosophy, and does it all through the lens of what it means to be a follower of Christ in his life, his work and his family. He’s thirty-smhershmer years old, still loves punk rock and has famously never turned down a rice-krispies treat.

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.

allegiance (part 1)…

We live in a time when the allegiance of the American Christian must change…and it is something that is long overdue.

We have willingly been sucked into the political (both left and right) and nationalistic games of our day without any hesitation. In doing so…we have compromised the very allegiance and identity we are to have only in Jesus Christ and his Kingdom by giving our pledge of allegiance to political ideologies and the interests of nation-states, and then assuming their identity and their character.

We have given our allegiance to man-made ideas and man-made governments that are as sturdy as sand. We fight, argue, defend, and spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and effort investing in those things to which we have given our allegiance. The profoundly sad and tragic truth is that we are significantly quicker to defend and fight for our life and liberty as citizens of the United States than we are to stand firm in our allegiance to Jesus Christ without compromising our identity in his Kingdom. Do you see the problem?

The great tragedy of the American Christian is that we want to have two lovers in the same bed at the same time…but there is only room for one. We want to chase, pursue, and work hard for one lover…while the other lover jealously waits for our full fidelity. And we consistently compromise our marriage vows to our faithful spouse while we rampantly pursue and seductively try to charm and tame the untamable mistress. She cannot be tamed…and we are mistaken if we believe we can tame her.

The Christian ought not have allegiance to or affinity toward ANY ideological, political, or governmental system of the world. The Scriptures state that there is great satanic power that works in the kingdoms of the world to oppress and destroy humanity, and has been working to this end from the beginning of time. Any system in the world may fall prey to this destructive power. That does not mean we ought not pray for our leaders or our governments to exemplify God’s justice and mercy in the world, but it does mean that we ought to be vigilant and stand guard against giving our pledge of allegiance to it.

If history is anything, it ought to be regarded as a way to learn from our past so as to not make the same mistakes again. As such, history ought to give caution and pause to people of faith who put their hope, faith, and trust in any ideological, political, or governmental system.

The late Art Katz, a messianic Jew, recounted the relationship and affinity German Jews had to the cultural, scientific, and economic development of Germany:

[We] were so deeply ensconced as Germans with a 2000-year tenure in Germany, though we were Jews…the fact of the matter was that we were more German than we were Jewish. And though the dark clouds gathered, we could not believe what they indicated. And we said, in that human way that does not want to recognize painful things, “This too shall pass.” The tragic thing was…it didn’t.

And who could have imagined that the land of Beethoven, Hegel, Nitsche, Schopenhauer, Gerda, and Schiller could be the land of the systematic annihilation of the Jewish people. It was inconceivable. And because the Jews were so taken up with the virtue of German civilization, they became its victim. They themselves had participated in the creation of the monster…and were instrumental in creating the very civilization that destroyed them.

I don’t want to pretend for a second that the situation of the American Christian is in any way, shape, or form like the plight or suffering of the Jewish Holocaust victims. But this recounting should be a very appropriate caution and lesson for the American Christian who has been incredibly instrumental and influential in the development of the United States. It should further give us pause to the fact that, while we ought to only have one allegiance to Jesus Christ and his Kingdom, we could very well be devoured by the very entity that we helped create and in which we have put our hope, faith, and trust. Do we not see that putting our hope, faith, and trust in any political movement or governmental entity is ultimately a dead-end road?

The Christian is told to not put our hope, faith, and trust in those things of earth that can be shaken. Rather, we are called to put our hope, faith, and trust in that which will never be shaken. So let us only give our allegiance to the King and the Kingdom that will never be shaken, and let us learn the secret of being content in any and all situations while demonstrating the love, justice, and mercies of God to the world.

read allegiance (part 2)…