Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Just what is kingdom of heaven; How does one explain it?

For some reason this question just keeps circling through my head:  How does one explain the kingdom of heaven? Of course to answer, one has to define that term, also referred to as the kingdom of God.

A simple starting point needed to be found, so I turned to my Life Application Study Bible.  The kingdom of heavenis not defined per se, only kingdom:  rule or realm; dominion of a king.

I admit that was not a very satisfying result. I wanted more information and that pushed me to another resource, HarperCollins’ Bible Dictionary.  No simple answer here, but I did find some clues.

  • In the Old Testament, the kingdom of heavenkingdom of heavenkingdom of heavenwas considered to be a political kingdom.  Ancient rulers were identified as a king who dominated a specific geographical area.  The kingdom of heavenwas only a vague concept.
  • In the New Testament (NT), the first book of the gospel is Matthew and he refers to the kingdom of Godnot kingdom of heaven.  Apparently Matthew, whose audience were the Israelites/Jews, wanted to make it clear that God was the king.  The other three gospels and other NT books use the term kingdom of heaven.  According to the dictionary, the definition and/or references throughout the NT, some references tend to imply that the kingdom of heavenis an earthly realm (geographical area); yet in other references, the kingdom is a celestial location—a place outside of the earthly world we humanly know.

Finally, another statement details the understanding of the concept more definitively and I had footnoted it previously as a “post-modern view”:

“. . . new era of peace and blessing for all creation:  humans and other animate beings will enjoy life together without hurting or destroying one another in that transformed world sometimes known as ‘the peaceable kingdom’.” [p. 568]

Admittedly all these formal definitions or descriptors is not helping put together a better understanding of what the kingdom of heavenmeans in today’s common language.

Therefore, let me present my own perception:

The kingdom of heaven opens up to each one who accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, the son of God and son of Man, who came to teach how to live the Christian lifestyle following just two rules:

            (1) Love God.

            (2) Love one another. 

Living in the kingdom of heaven is living out those two rules day in and day out regardless of the physical location in which one lives—while our bodies are alive on the earth and after our bodies die our spirit continues living with God in a mysterious existence upon which we can only speculate.

Following those two simple rules transforms our mental state regardless of the environmental circumstances of our lives. Making the disciplined decision to join in the Christian lifestyle removes all the angst of factors that we really cannot control.

Think about how differently one can even perceive the weather events that affect our daily lives.  We make decisions about where we live, but we cannot make a difference on the weather that effects our address.  We live in four seasons, we know that we will have rain, snow, wind, drought, cold and hot conditions.  We know that at times there will be major weather events such as tornadoes, hail storms, or floods.  

We cannot change the weather, we can only change our mental management of the weather.  I know that the weather is outside of my control, but that does not mean I ignore it.  Rather I embrace it.

I am a weather nerd, so to speak.  I love a good summer thunderstorm, even though I do not like the mud that it creates.  I get excited when the alerts go off that we are under a tornado watch. And who does not love a snowstorm as it comes in and blankets our world.  

Yes, I know there can be very negative results from major storms, but by letting go and letting God be in charge means I am free to experience the positive and disregard the negatives—even if I am doing the snow shoveling.

For me, the kingdom of heavenis a marvelous mental state that comes with believing and living my faith in God.  I can see the world so differently when I use the lens of Jesus Christ.  I can see the values even in the negatives. I can live in the kingdom now while looking forward to the kingdom yet to come when I leave this earthly life.

My disappointment is that so many I know have not come to a conscious awareness of the kingdom of heavenas a real concept that is attainable right now, right here.  

When I stop and evaluate the individuals I have known within my own lifetime, I can see how living in the kingdom of heavenis real.  I can see it in their eyes, their smiles, their actions, and their love. 

Despite all the trials and tribulations that they experience, there is an internal joy and enthusiasm for life that transcends the negatives.  

These are the very ones who do not ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

These are the ones who accept their own limitations and flaws and do all that they can to live differently within the context of Christ-like living. 

These are the very Christians that I want to surround myself with as I look for any way that I can to do all that I can for anyone I can.  

Yes, I want to live like John Wesley wants us to live.  I want to live in the kingdom of heavennow and on into infinity!  I love God. I love life.  I love one another.  Amen.

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear loving, infinite God,

What a thrill it is to discover your kingdom.

What joy fills our hearts to live knowing

     your unending love.

What relief we experience knowing the freedom

     our faith provides. 

And, Lord, we know we are likely

     to make mistakes along our journey;

But we know you are with us

     patiently waiting for us to call.

For those times we slip, thank you for forgiving us

     and keeping the door always open.

Guide us to share the wonderment of life with you.

Guide us to demonstrate the joy in living with you.

Guide us to invite others to life in your kingdom.

Thank you for all that your creation provides.

Thank you for all that you teach us

     through your son Jesus Christ.

Thank you for sending us the Holy Spirit

     so we can know your presence within us.

Amen.

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Know What You Believe: John Wesley’s church

given on Sunday, September 25, 2016

Knowing what one believes certainly is not easy. The demands of our daily lives tend to eat up so much time that careful reflection on who we are or what we believe just seems impractical. Yet, who we are and what we believe are evident to others around us, so we should try to figure it out. Psychologists make careers out of it when life clashes with one’s personal identity.

Why is it important for Christians to know what they believe? Basically what one believes is the very operating system one uses in all the various relationships, work settings, home environments and even recreational times. The choices we make are connected and controlled by the belief system we live. Sometimes what we say we believe and what we do are not aligned causing friction within one’s self as well as friction within personal, professional, or casual relationships.

The relationship we maintain with God is the most critical one we have during our earthly lifetimes. A healthy relationship with God places us in an excellent position to develop and to maintain healthy human relationships. Plus life challenges are handled with less destructive force when God is part of one’s operating system.

United Methodists follow John Wesley’s inadvertently developed theology that could be termed ‘practical theology’ for his followers in order to take the Bible and move it into action. Wesley modeled how religion was a lifestyle rather than a Sunday-worship event. He delivered the Story to the unchurched, the poor, and the laborers in any way he could—even though he was raised in the Anglican Church attended by affluent and influential people.

Reviewing the various types of theology, I discovered how creation theology seemed be a positive fit for me; but knowledge not implemented fails God. Certainly knowing what one believes establishes one’s foundation, and God asks us to use faith knowledge as our operating system. We are to be God’s presence in this real world and that means we need a method to do God’s work. Wesley provides that structure.

Wesley was born into a faith-filled world. The son of an Anglican priest, the family environment placed Wesley in direct connection to religion. His family also struggled with the structure of the Church of England. Wesley saw the world around him and coupled that with Jesus’ model of living to develop the methods that put scripture into real life application. No easy task, for certain, but as he refined his faith and his methods, he demonstrated how the Holy Spirit works through God’s faithful.

Wesley lived what he read in scriptures, but he struggled with many of the same issues that Christians today do. How does God work in our lives? My perception of Wesley’s own story is that one simply must begin by living in the world as best as one can. He was fortunate that his parents were educated and determined that all their children were, too, despite the financial stress it placed upon the family. This history is repeated in Christian families throughout time.

Yet, Wesley struggled to understand God. He saw the poverty and the injustices in the world around him. As Wesley continued developing his faith, he could not ignore that world. He saw the people who were suffering and were unable to manage due to harsh work conditions, poor economic situations, and even deplorable health situations.

Wesley took God to the people. Not only did Wesley live his faith personally and actively within the community, he took God’s story to the people. He preached the Word. He demonstrated how to live faith actively and he studied struggling to fully comprehend God.

The practices that Wesley used became the structures of the Methodist denomination. Using small group study structures and the acts of piety and acts of mercy, he established the methods that put God’s words into action.

The Methodist denomination developed from Wesley’s disciplined approach to living his faith. The personal struggles Wesley experienced to discover what God’s grace means and how to live in a faithful relationship with God provides a model of holiness that continues to lead others to Christ and to transform the world one person at a time. In fact, God’s grace reaches out exponentially when Wesley’s model is implemented individually and corporately. This is a structure I want to follow.

Wesleyan scholar Hal Knight shares how God’s grace interacts in our lives: “Grace is relational, an encounter with the transforming presence of God’s love, eliciting our response.” The four levels of grace makes faith an active process, even developmental, which for an educator provides more clarity how growth in one’s faith leads to the Kingdom of God. Wesley outlines the four levels of grace as a map for our lives.

Born we are granted prevenient grace even before we can cognitively recognize it. As we grow, we become conscious of God’s presence in our lives. Educationally this might mean that the rote learning that attempts to develop an awareness of God’s presence begins to become an internalized knowledge, and with that new understanding the comprehension of God’s presence—justification.

Developing knowledge begins with introduction of an idea, which is then practiced and/or committed to memory one way or another. Once a knowledge base is in place, practice moves to different frameworks as the student sees the knowledge in different settings. For instance, number facts must be learned, but until the student begins using number facts in calculations the new knowledge is still unused. Now the student must begin applying the knowledge in real-life settings—sanctification when talking about one’s faith.

Sanctification moves the Christian into action. Developmentally the Christian is now able to take the awareness of God’s presence in one’s own life and aid others in the discovery of God, too. Sanctification, as Knight states, transforms Christians “. . . to be a loving person.” This leads the Christian to the final state of grace known as perfection. Knight states:

Christian perfection comes when the holy tempers of love for God and neighbor fill our hearts and govern our lives. While we never entirely do God’s will (“involuntary transgressions” remain), we can be freed from intentional sin and motivated by love. Wesley believed Christian perfection was a promise of God that could be attained before death, followed y continued growth.

 

Wesley articulated the developmental process of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and argues that reaching such an internalized relationship with God is possible even within the confines of an earthly existence. This is a religion that makes sense in a world that battles evil continually. This is a religion that provides hope to those in the worst of circumstances. This is a religion that puts theory into action. This is a denomination that works now as much as it did in the past and will in the future. This what I believe faith is in my life.

As part of our community, knowing what you believe transforms you into the Christ-like figure you are. Knowing what you believe defines the quality of your life regardless of life’s challenges. Living what you believe draws others to God as they strive to be more like you and that is how we share God’s story and bring others to Christ transforming the world one person at a time.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

How easy it is to live our lives with little thought about our faith.

We can become numb to the needs of others if we ignore You.

We fail to practice what we believe,

so we fail to fulfill your commandment.

 

Help us, Lord, to follow Wesley’s model of faithful disciplines.

Help us to see those in need, sick, lonely, and lost.

Help us to find ways to share what we believe

so others may discover your saving grace.

 

Thank you for loving us despite our failures.

Thank you for teaching us how to love one another.

Thank you for granting us the presence of the Holy Spirit

so we may serve as your disciples in our own community.

 

In the name of the Jesus Christ, amen.

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