Posts Tagged 'kingdom of God'

[Note: I originally published this at my personal blog. I'm reposting here because I'm vain like that.]

I can still remember the day, back in 1988, when I was encouraged–along with my entire Senior government class–to register for the vote. There was an election that year. It was George H. W. Bush (R) versus Michael Dukakis (D). Our government teacher, Miss Lynch (and I have great respect for her, so this is not to disparage her in any way), helped us to get registered so we could vote in the primary. I was certain I would be voting Democrat. If I recall correctly, Jesse Jackson was also a Democrat primary candidate. I was loud enough in class to assure our teacher that I would vote for Jackson in the primary. I don’t remember if I voted in that primary or not (I graduated when I was 17 and I just do not remember.)

Several months later, there would be a presidential election. I was at Parris Island South Carolina, completing my training as a recruit in the USMC. I was one of two recruits during basic training who received absentee ballots. I recall very the very distinct and piercing voice of SSgt Aronhalt telling us, “If you still want to be allowed to carry a gun, you better vote for Bush.” I voted for Dukakis. Probably just to spite SSgt.

Here I am now, twenty some years later, and it is time for another presidential election. This past Sunday I was at worship. We were invited, as we are every Sunday, and as we are commanded in Scripture, to pray for our nation’s leaders. Someone prayed something to the effect of, “Lord, please send us the right candidates.” It struck a raw nerve with me. It’s one thing to pray for leaders, generically; it is quite something else to pray for the ‘right candidates.’ I gnashed my teeth. I have no right to feel that way about someone else’s prayer to God. But I did, and I do. Four days later, that prayer is still bothering me.

I grew up idolizing my grandfather. He had strong political ideas that mostly revolved around Democrat politics. He was a politician and perhaps could have done more with his political ambitions had he not also had ideas that mostly revolved around Miller beer. I knew, from a very early age, that Democrat was the only way that I would ever vote. Die-Hard Democrat: “Democrats stand for the working people; Republicans for the Rich” was the story he told me. With wide, saucer-like eyes, I listened in awe. Of course I voted for Dukakis–as much out of respect for my grandfather as to spite Ssgt Senior Drill Instructor Aronhalt.

I never missed an election cycle–local, state, federal for twenty years. Ever since Miss Lynch encouraged us to register. Voting was my right, responsibility, and privilege. People had ‘died so that I could vote’ or ‘voting freely is what makes America great and unique’ are the mantras I grew up listening to in classrooms and around cans of beer.

Here I am twenty years later and I just do not care any more. My conviction is born out of a heart that has come to the conclusion that it simply does not matter what I do inside that small curtained room. It’s like there’s a giant floating head hovering above us, clothed with smoke and fire, shouting to the candidates, “Don’t pay any attention to that man behind the curtain.” Word. That’s how I feel every time I go to the church building where the polling stations are set up. Ironic, I know, but true nonetheless.

Frankly, I think my conviction is born mostly out of my faith. On the one hand, I have no faith in the ’system’ (I wish I never had any to begin with, but that’s another story) any longer–I’m not so young and naive any longer; my grandfather is dead; I haven’t seen SSgt Aronhalt since November 9, 1988; and Miss Lynch can no longer issue me a detention slip. On the other hand, my faith compels me to neglect the handing of power to the power brokers, power mongers, power feeders, power graspers, power (insert favorite verb)  of this world. Since voting no longer matters, and since I no longer care, I’m not doing it again this year. Not one of those people running for office speaks for me, represents my view, or hopes to accomplish things in the way they should be accomplished. All they can do is throw more money at problems. They do not have in mind the Kingdom of God; they have in mind power: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects.” Indeed.

In every way imaginable, in every conceivable way, government is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God whose King Jesus is.

My conviction is that I will live with those who are chosen to lead, but I will have no part whatsoever in pushing them into power. I will not live in fear of those whose political opinions are diametrically opposed to mine and I will not worship at the throne of those who happen to share similar views. This is faith: that politics carries as much weight as we give them and I refuse to give politics any credibility at all. I refuse to invest my time in their power–it’s bad enough they get my money. I will endeavor to do my best to ignore them, their promises, their threats, their speeches about hope and unity and a ‘better America,’ or, worse, ‘a better tomorrow.’ Frankly, I do not want the sort of hope that is provided by politicians and government. Their hope is no hope at all. They can keep it, and I’ll keep my vote, my money, and myself.

But the worst part of all this? I know when I go to worship on Sunday I will hear something about this insipid political game we play every couple of years–does anyone ever even consider how much damage politics have done, how it destroys the unity of the body of Christ–and precisely because we are invited to pray for our leaders? (Prayers are never so unbiased as to avoid a short sermon or two in between thanking God for our daily bread and delivering us from evil.) I’m waiting for that one sermon that reminds me of what politicians are really like, what they are really about, and what they really hope to accomplish with their power: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19-20).

Politicians do not have the best interests of anyone in mind but themselves. Their life and their work is to preserve the continuity of power in the hands of a few. I will no longer play a nice part in the perpetuation and consolidation of power. The Scripture says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). So if Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, what on earth could compel me to pick up those arms and willingly hand them back to the power-hungry leaders of this world?

I think the most Christian thing I can do in America right now is NOT vote in the upcoming presidential election.

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Daily Office

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

So have you thought lately about what the kingdom is like? I haven’t. Honestly. I have put no thought into it at all. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes—these times of thinking and not thinking about the kingdom. Maybe part of being a part of the kingdom is learning to think about the kingdom without be cognizant that we actually are thinking about the kingdom. I don’t know if that even makes sense.

For some reason, I honestly have no idea why, I have been receiving episodes (I like that much better than the word ‘issues’) of the magazine Charisma. It is strange that I am no longer professional clergy, and I’m not really even close to Pentecostal, and yet I am receiving this, maybe there is more to it than I thought. Maybe God is sending me a message. Who can figure these things out with any certainty? I read some of the articles in the magazine, but what intrigues me more are the advertisements—mostly for books or conferences—because I’ll tell you what: Pentecostals have the kingdom down to a science, or at least they have thinking about the kingdom down to a science. The advertisements may as well read like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like defeating demonic strongholds.

The kingdom of heaven is like maximized manhood.

The kingdom of heaven is like a body of politics.

The kingdom of heaven is like understanding what happens after we die (and Perry Stone will lead us.)

The kingdom of heaven is like a good insurance company.

The kingdom of heaven is like a convenient and healthy step forward in the celebration of communion.

The kingdom of heaven is like the faith and values of Sarah Palin (because what she believes really does matter for America!).

And that’s only the first 26 pages or so. Look, I have nothing against Charisma magazine. I’m sure it inspires and helps and encourages a lot of people–even me at times. This isn’t a question of salvation or anything of that sort. I just happen to think it is rather funny that some people in the church have this kingdom of heaven thing all worked out into a neat tidy package. That’s exactly what makes me think that maybe they are on to something. For them, the kingdom isn’t just one thing; they see God in everything, doing something in all the minutia of every day existence whether painting a building, rescuing immigrants, or worshiping with Jews for Jesus.

These are people who are thinking about God, thinking about the kingdom. They are more than I am. They are necessary to counter the ignorance of people like me who think that the kingdom is like a nice brick building on main street where the old people gather to sing songs from the 1700’s.

It appears to me that even Jesus wasn’t really sure what the kingdom of heaven was like—even if he did happen to have some particularly wonderful ideas. What I mean is that Jesus was looking for the kingdom everywhere. He was not so confined his thoughts. For Jesus, anything and everything had potential kingdom value. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good see in his field. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven. The kingdom of heaven is a treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant….a net…seriously? The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things according to Jesus. Makes me wonder what Jesus would say if he were speaking to us in our culture. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is like the faith and values of Sarah Palin (although something tells me if a certain divinity student from Duke still visited us he would laugh loudly, disagree, and point out the necessarily satanic value of such a statement).

Maybe the kingdom of heaven is like a mini-van which, when properly functioning, carries a load of people from one destination to another. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is like a baseball game (!).

Or some such thing.

Whatever jesting I might make about Charisma one thing is certain: the authors, advertisers, and editors are at least thinking about what the kingdom of heaven is like in our context. Maybe nets and mustard seeds and merchants do not meant all that much to us, but I’ll bet they meant a lot of things to Jesus and his followers then. Thus, back to my point, maybe I simply do not spend enough time each day thinking about what the kingdom of heaven is like in my context. Maybe that is exactly my problem: maybe I’m just not creative enough to think about the ways that the kingdom manifests itself in this world every day. Maybe I’m simply not spending enough time thinking about the kingdom or looking for the kingdom or thinking like Jesus thinking about the kingdom.

Maybe if I would pay a little more attention, think a little more creatively, then perhaps I might start seeing the kingdom in more places, and in more ways, then I had previously imagined possible. Maybe nets and merchants and mustard seeds are only the beginning. Maybe there are a million ways more that the kingdom exists and manifests itself each day in the US of A and around the world. Perhaps I’m just too narrow-minded and myopic to see it. Perhaps more kingdom thinking is necessary.

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