This guide is a supplement to the Sunday sermons in our Kingdom Citizens series. It is meant to be discussed and prayed through with at least one other brother or sister in Christ. Our pastoral staff has put it together in the hope that it would revive our affection for Christ and embolden us to live radical lives seeking Jesus and His Kingdom first.
It’s been said that the problem most Christians face is that they still have not decided to truly follow Jesus. I think that’s true, true for me anyways. But I don’t think that works anymore, not for me, not for you and not for a community of people called the Church.
2020 has been a year most of us will be happy to see fade into the twilight of history. The global pandemic set off a series of events that has affected every person on earth. Every system has been challenged, every idea has been contemplated and every effort has been made to get back to normal. Yet we continue not to know what the future holds, and as of this writing, no cure or fix has been found.
Another way to see 2020 is as the year God pulled back the curtain and revealed how fragile our world really is. As COVID-19 poked holes in the utopian dream of human progress, God also showed us how much we need Him. We have made so much progress, and it’s still not enough. We are also facing one of the most contested presidential elections ever seen, and Americans are deeply polarized over their politics. Everything seems to be political, and politics seems to be everything.
For Jesus people, this is the world that Jesus has put us in, the time when the Father pre-ordained for us to live. God is not surprised at how chaotic the world feels to us. In fact, it is in the midst of that chaos that Jesus says to us these words from Matthew’s Gospel:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
I think this is one of Jesus’ most important promises, and one we rarely take Him up on. If we seek His Kingdom before everything else we set our hearts on, above everything else we set our hopes on, beyond everything else that we place our security in, He promises to provide everything we need and give us those things as well.
Kingdom Citizens is more than a series we’re preaching through as a church this fall. It is the identity of every single follower of Jesus. It is your right, your privilege, your passport and your agenda on earth. The Church is the one place in the entire world where Jesus’ Lordship, His kingly rule and reign over our lives and all things, is supposed to be uncontested. The world we live in is broken, fallen and groaning for its full redemption through Christ. The powers and authorities of darkness are directly opposed to Jesus and His Kingdom. At every turn there is denial and disregard for Christ, but in the Church?! We are the one place where we celebrate Jesus as our King and worship Him rather than oppose Him.
What is at stake when the very people who call themselves by the name of Jesus have still not decided in their hearts to follow Him? Well, nothing good. The sad truth is we seek something else, someone else, anything else, because we are seekers at the core, and once we find that lesser thing, we put our hope, security and essentially faith in that thing.
The end result is a church that doesn’t look much different than the world around us. We talk the same, think the same, treat each other the same, disagree the same and are the same.
Only we are NOT the same. We have been transferred into the new Kingdom. We have been given a new allegiance and a new way of being human that looks like Jesus, talks like Jesus and loves like Jesus, because it is Jesus who enlivens us by His very own Spirit and empowers us to seek Him above everything else.
That is what this guide is for—to revive our affection for Christ and to embolden us to live radical lives seeking Jesus and His Kingdom first, and banking all our hopes on His promise to give us everything we need.
Each guide has a short thought and a few days’ worth of Scripture passages to study. It also includes prayers you can pray.
This guide is a supplement to our Sunday messages, and it is meant to be discussed and prayed through with another person or two. While we can’t gather like we once did, I want to encourage you to continue to gather. It doesn’t matter how you do it—online, on the phone, in person if you’re feeling ok with that—the point is to go through this with another brother or sister in Christ. We were made to be on this journey together. We are Kingdom Citizens, plural not singular, and we need each other. So reach out to someone before you start. Ask if you can connect to pray together, talk about what you’re learning and most importantly seek the Kingdom together, believing and hoping in the King who has already won the victory and will complete the good work He has started in us.
– Pastor Rick
Turn around, the Kingdom is Here
We often talk about what Jesus came to the world to DO. We know He lived a perfect life, died as a substitution for our sins and rose from the grave on the third day. But before all of that, Jesus came to the world to SAY something. He came to teach us something. What He taught us was the most complete picture of what it means to be a new kind of human on earth with a unique set of values, a distinct perspective on most everything and a particular vision of life in relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit. He called it the Kingdom of God. His message was pretty simple…
Turn around and quit going the wrong way because the Kingdom of God is here….
That is my paraphrase but it’s pretty close to the actual Greek…
The word “repent” in English, and the word “metanoia” in the Greek, essentially mean to turn around. The word carries with it moral, intellectual and emotional implications, so it’s not just about what direction to go.
There is a reason Jesus chose the word metanoia/repent. He knew something about how far off-course we are prone to go, and He knew that His Kingdom and His ways would be a radical departure from the way of life most of us are accustomed to living.
It was radical then. It is radical now. The invitation to follow Jesus and embrace His Kingdom way leads us into a whole-person life change. When we follow Jesus, it changes the way we think. Our own perspectives and the political ideas we thought were best are called into question because of what Jesus has to say.
The call to the Kingdom is a radical departure from what we are used to emotionally as well. The way we thought and talked about people we disagree with or people we don’t like is radically different from how Jesus tells us to think about and treat them. In fact, it is so radical that the Jesus way seems upside down to our thinking. Where we have felt justified in ignoring certain people at best, hating them at worst, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them.
The Kingdom Jesus brings us into also requires us to repent (turn around) from the way we have understood God and salvation as well. It turns out God doesn’t favor the people who have it all together, but the ones who are weeping, mourning and a complete mess. He calls blessed, joyful and fulfilled. The Kingdom of Jesus saves the best seats in the house for those who aren’t invited to most of the shows the world puts on.
This is one thing we know for certain as we listen to what Jesus said when He came to earth. We can’t even begin to understand what He is talking about until we turn around and quit going in the wrong direction. We start with repentance because this act of humble obedience actually turns the key that unlocks the door to the Kingdom of God.
This Week’s Scripture Passages:
Consider each passage and reflect on what it means to hear and obey God’s voice through His Word.
Matthew 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
Matthew 6: 28-34 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Colossians 1:13 “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Philippians 3:20-21 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Take some time this week in prayer to reflect on these questions and answer them honestly before God and another brother or sister in Christ, inviting Jesus to change us through the Holy Spirit.
• How would you describe the Kingdom of God to someone who asked you what it was?
• How does this description of repentance as “turning around” differ from what you may have previously thought of repentance?
• If Jesus is saying these words to you, what do you need to repent of in order to move towards Jesus and His Kingdom? Think of three areas:
o In your thinking
o In your feelings
o In your spirit/faith
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
You do not delight in sacrifice,
or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Psalm 51:1-4, 11-12,16-17 NIV
• Pray for God’s Church to awaken to our true identity as Kingdom citizens.
• Pray for God’s Kingdom to break in through His people in our city in a way that honors Jesus and displays His love and power.
• Pray for our church pastors and leaders—for their strength, health and spiritual perseverance in this season.
• Pray for those who are hurting and grieving loss during this time—those who lost loved ones, those who have lost homes, those who feel lost in such a challenging time.
• Pray for the peace of our city to break in with power, and for hearts and minds to be filled with mercy and grace toward one another.
Scripture – 1 Peter 2:11-17
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Kingdom Citizens Living out a Strong and Gentle Difference
What does it mean to be a Kingdom Citizen in a world like ours? During a moment like ours?
While our moment is extremely unique, especially for those of us experiencing major events for the first time in our history—like global a pandemic—the truth is our world and our moment are not too terribly different from many moments the Church has lived through. The Church has not simply survived such moments, it has thrived in these kinds of moments. The book of 1 Peter helps us gain clarity on what that looks like for us.
This is not your Home or Hope
The first thing Peter tells us in this passage is that we are not home. He calls us exiles and foreigners. We are here, but no longer from this place. Our citizenship is in heaven. This world is no longer our home in an ultimate sense. What would it look like if we truly believed that? How would we live during moments like ours if our ultimate citizenship was with Christ, in Christ and for Christ?
Peter tells us. It would mean that what is normal here is not normal for us. The desires of the flesh that were once our go-to for life, fulfillment and peace are no longer our go-to. The ordinary sins that seem so normal in this world would be like eating a meal that seems entirely strange to our taste buds and stomachs (I am thinking about Haggis from Scotland here…Google it). You don’t have a taste for it, and it kind of makes you gag. That’s the trajectory the Spirit has for us. The normal way of violence against enemies and hatred of those we oppose should be becoming bitter on your tongue and sour in your stomach. Meanwhile love and gentleness, which are entirely foreign entrées in our world, should start to become tasty and something we crave.
Peter doesn’t stop with sin though. He also calls us to live a “good” life in the world where we are. What does a good life look like?
First of all, a good life is one that is on display. Peter tells us that others should be able to see it and give thanks to God. Goodness should bring a piece of heaven to earth, and people notice heaven when it shows up.
We are supposed to live different lives in a different way. What I mean by that is Peter describes a WAY of living this difference. It is not by force or might; it is a gentle way.
Yet just because something is gentle does not mean it’s weak, just the opposite.
The way of Jesus is the way of STRONG and GENTLE Difference
Miroslov Volf describes the way Kingdom Citizens are called to live like this:
“Peter striving for social change calls us to drop the myth of man-made revolution and do as much good personally and systemically as we can while we are here in the name of God and in the way of Jesus.”
We live our differences not by demanding or imposing God’s Kingdom on society; we display it by doing good to all people, as good citizens and neighbors. We submit to human authority and show respect to all people. This is the gentle posture that Jesus lived and called us to.
But it is also strong. We are to fear ONLY God and honor the king. In Peter’s day you feared the king above all else. Kings held the power of life and death in their hands. Kings were sovereign and ultimate, but in this new world Kingdom Citizens know that there is one King and His name isn’t Caesar (or Biden or Trump). His name is Jesus, and we fear Him with worship and reverence. We also can show honor to kings, presidents and human authority because we know they are not sovereign or ultimate. We know the true King, who for His own reasons has allowed them to sit on their temporary thrones.
This is the strong and gentle difference we are called to live. In many ways, this is very subversive. We won’t bow down to the fear-mongering tactics of political power, and we won’t bite down on that tasty bitter fruit of violence. Instead we will show respect to those in authority even if they live disrespectfully and even if we find very little in their character or policies that we can respect.
I realize that in our political climate, Peter’s words sound like pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. But I want us to remember that THIS IS HOW JESUS CONQUERED SIN, DEATH AND EVIL. The way of non-violence, the way of strong and gentle difference is THE way that God’s Kingdom triumphs over evil.
The civil rights movement is a contemporary example of that. (If you have not had a chance to watch Rick’s interview with Leroy Haynes, go watch it. It’s amazing.) As the authorities and systems oppressed Black men and women, the courageous people in the civil rights movement—many of whom were believers— prayed, sang and marched while they faced beatings, imprisonment and threats against their lives. There was nothing weak about that movement. It was supernatural in its strength, but it was nonviolent. Civil rights activists faced their oppressors with gentleness and respect despite the lack of respect and human dignity they were shown.
While some today might see the continued injustice done to people of color as a sign the civil rights movement didn’t work, Rev. Dr. Leroy Haynes would disagree. Though we still have a far way to go, the world he sees now has radically changed. He points to the actual policy changes that came about because of the suffering love and strong, gentle difference modeled after a Jewish Rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago. Courageous men and women of color have followed His example despite the way of violence and hate set against them.
God’s Word to us through Peter continues to be THE way for every Kingdom Citizen. We are called to live out the strong and gentle difference and respectful resistance to injustice through suffering love. Now is our moment to walk in the dust of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us as faithful witnesses and stewards of the Kingdom. They lived faithfully so that we might choose to live faithfully to our King and Kingdom right now. This is the way of Jesus, our King, who became victorious through suffering love and by whose Spirit we now love and live the difference.
Discussion and Reflection
1. Create a list of 10 or fewer words you have found the typical Portlander/ American would consider to be included in the “good life”.
2. Based on what you read in 1 Peter (read through the entire letter if you can!), how does Peter describe the good life as a follower of Christ?
3. As you compare the lists, consider your own past week. In what ways has the typical Portland/American dream of the good life distracted you from the one describes by Peter, offered only in Jesus?
4. Repent together, naming the ways our imaginations, hopes, fears, finances, energy and time have been given over to the things of this world rather than the things of Christ. Bring these to Jesus and ask Him to replace our hearts’ desires for the world with the desires for the Kingdom of God. He promises to be faithful. Be honest. Be loving. Be humble. And enjoy the love that God has for you and the world this week.
How Should Kingdom Citizens Vote?
The title itself is enough to stop you in your tracks. Is a pastor really going to tell the congregation how to vote? The answer is yes. We should all know how to vote as followers of Jesus, which is different from telling you who or what to vote for.
Kingdom Citizens should first and foremost use their right to vote to glorify Jesus and give witness to His Kingdom in whatever way we can.
This does not mean letting a political party co-opt faith in Jesus and vandalize it with unbiblical ideals that are not Christ-honoring. This has happened during the last several elections by the Republican party, but progressives are not exempt from doing the same. When we vote to glorify Jesus and to give witness to His Kingdom, it will not be possible to vote straight through as a single-party voter.
That means we must educate ourselves on the people and the policies on the ballot, in both local and national elections. We must vote with biblical wisdom and knowledge in order to understand what is at stake and understand how the policies and candidates will impact our neighbors.
What glorifies Jesus when it comes to voting? This is the right question to be asking, and it is possible that different Christ-followers will come up with different answers. This is where we need healthy debate, and the Church should be able to tackle this kind of conversation. God teaches us how to love one another, consider one another before ourselves and listen to one another in love and truth.
One thing we can say with certainty is that Jesus is for LIFE, in all of its forms.
What will give life? Jesus cares about unborn children, but He also cares about their mothers and the situation that created a crisis pregnancy. It means Jesus cares about our neighbors—all races, genders and those who are undocumented among us. Jesus cares for Black lives without a doubt, and Jesus loves people who work as police officers. He loves both women and men, and He wants all people to flourish.
In Jesus’ Kingdom we reject the world’s binary choices of support this/hate that and this side is good/this side is evil. We reject a binary lens because we understand that we can love and pray for people on both sides of very complex issues. It means we can be friends and neighbors with all people. It means we will speak up for truth and do that with grace. It means we will seek to understand the complexities of living in the world and refuse to be bound to picking sides. It means we are free from the bondage of hate and the need to wage war against those we disagree with. We are free to love ALL people! Even those we deem unlovable, by God’s grace, we will love.
Jesus is for life from the womb to the tomb, and everywhere in between, which means we should vote for freedom for every person.
Human rights are in fact something God endowed us with. The reality is we bear His image. This gives us intrinsic value, regardless of how broken that image might be. Every person deserves those basic rights—from people who have disabilities, to LGBTQ people, to every race, to every gender. Hatred, racism and the like have no place in glorifying Jesus despite that ranting and raving of some extremists.
Human rights are different from a covenantal relationship with God. As those who have been re-born by faith in Jesus Christ, were made alive by the Spirit of God and are now in an inseparable relationship with the Father, we are called to a different standard in our relationships with God and each other. The Apostle Paul explains the higher calling we have in Christ and warns against imposing our way of life on the unbelieving world around us.
The way of life Jesus called us to is one of laying down our rights in order to love and sacrificially serve one another. We are not called to place the demands of holy living for God’s people on the world at large. We don’t deny human rights to people whose morality we disagree with. We know that it is only by the grace of God that we are brought into a covenantal relationship with Jesus.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
1 Cor 5:9-10
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
1 Cor 5:12-13
The fruit of a covenantal relationship with Jesus is a life that looks like Jesus. This can only happen through the Spirit of God, so trying to legislate morality is a nonstarter. We should know the difference between basic human rights and the covenant relationship we have with Jesus. We are free to pray and give witness of the Gospel and new life in Christ while empathizing and fighting for the human rights of all people.
We vote as those who are praying for and seeking to love our enemies. We are the people of peacemaking, not of violence. We glorify Jesus and give witness to His Kingdom when we vote for the sake of others. Here is where the Kingdom of God differs from our national rights. It is important that each of us is empowered to vote for things that secure us, things we believe in and our rights under the constitution, but in the Kingdom of God we also consider the welfare of others. The others might live next door to us or they might live across the border. It matters to Jesus that His people vote in such a way that others will flourish. We do this to give witness to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
1 Cor 9:12
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
1 Cor 9:19
Government is a God-ordained institution created to help humanity flourish. It is broken through sin, so there is always over-reach, oppression and abuse of power. But we the people of Jesus must continue to exercise our votes to give witness to the King and for the sake of other people.
Some may deeply believe the best way to help our neighbors is by empowering them economically through things like job creation and tax incentives. Others may believe the best way to love the other is by providing them with universal healthcare. These are not simple issues, but they are important issues we need to engage with. We must ask ourselves: does our political position work for all or most people or only a privileged few? Jesus’ commands for sacrificial love will not allow us to escape this question.
We glorify Jesus and give witness to His Kingdom when we prayerfully engage politically and are willing to engage in actual dialogue, not simply Facebook rants and monologues. Jesus does not recommend social media as a news source either. I am pretty sure about that.
We glorify Jesus when we continue to hold His Kingdom and His reign as ultimate—when we understand that neither America nor any other nation will vote the Kingdom of God into being. We must temper our hopes and expectations while giving voice to those who have no voice.
We glorify Jesus and give witness to His Kingdom when we have enough self-awareness to realize that the way we voted in the past may need to change, enough humility to change it and enough grace to work with others across political lines to display the love of Christ to the world.
In the end, we hope for a better America after every election. However, let us not fall for the lie that our ultimate security, hope or freedom will come from an election or ballot measure. Change will come.
Progress, I pray, will come. More people will flourish, but our ultimate security, hope and freedom will come only by and through Jesus for His Glory and our joy. Let’s not misplace our hope. We vote as people with a passport to America, but who are ultimately citizens of an eternal Kingdom. Jesus’ Kingdom will bring a final freedom without end. So, we vote with a longing to see the world get a little bit better, but we also vote knowing the One who will bring our final and forever freedom.
Reflect on the verses shared from 1 Corinthians (reading through the entire letter over the week only takes about 45 minutes).
As a follower of Jesus Christ, what invitations do you hear as you listen to Paul’s letter to “those sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
Division within the family of God is rampant and incredibly hurtful these days. Remembering the invitation in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” What part might you be able to play in bringing reconciliation this week?
Whether it’s repentance for yourself, brave conversations with those you love or a little bit of both, invite others to pray fervently with you, as Jesus prayed for us the night He was betrayed:
I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
Our LOVING UNITY is an important part of sharing Jesus with the world—and the only way to achieve this unity is by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Receive this blessing as you bravely step into broken and hurting places in the coming weeks:
For Love in a Time of Conflict by John O’Donohue
When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Toward the gateway to spring.
Not Right, not Left, not Private
There is a lie western culture opted into a few centuries ago. This lie is still believed, and it shapes much of our political landscape on both sides of the political aisle. The lie is this: Through human progress, humanity can create utopia. Through our own efforts, science, technology, self-expression—you name it— we can make the world the way it is supposed to be.
I want you to think about that for a moment and ask yourself: Is that true? Can we, in fact, create an ideal world?
Human progress is responsible for many incredible and wonderful things. I mean, cars can drive themselves for crying out loud! There is no doubt we’ve made progress. The Bible tells us that God set up the world for human flourishing. Because of that, there is much good in the world that has helped humanity to flourish.
However, the sin that exists in the human heart and permeates the world continues to wreak havoc on the entire enterprise. Governments always have and always will misuse their God-ordained power and oppress people for their own benefit. The progress in our country highly favors some while excluding, marginalizing and oppressing others.
It is naive and unbiblical to think that sin can be dealt with through politics, and it is equally naive to assume that reshuffling the political deck will lead to the utopia the human heart longs for.
I am not saying we shouldn’t seek to do good to all people. That is a mandate God has given us. However, placing our hope in the LIE that human progress will lead to utopia will always disappoint us.
In an ultimate sense, the political right and political left are both talking about the same thing. The disagreement is over how that utopia should look. That disagreement is wide and high and deep, but the fundamental belief undergirding both sides is that human progress done in a particular way (right or left, conservative or progressive, democrat or republican) will lead to a utopia. The assumption is that if one side had all the power, they would be able to shape the world into what it is supposed to be.
Kingdom Citizens led by the Spirit and submitted to God’s Word know it is not this simple. We know we can’t fix what is deeply broken in the human heart and in human systems without the only One who has the authority and power to redeem that brokenness. We are not right, not left and not private. We are biblical realists who bear witness to the Good News for all people that another Kingdom is breaking in on earth.
Lee Camp says it this way in his book, Scandalous Witness:
“This same sort of realism must characterize our own sharp social critique. The Bible is no utopian, do-gooder manifesto, but uncomfortably, sometimes painfully, realistic. Yet still the Bible depicts all powers—everything from king to priest, marketplace to temple, marriage bed to social policy—as potential gifts to human communities. Each gift may nonetheless oppress and overreach. Such realism must pervade our thinking regarding the relationship between church and world…. This fact is of great sociopolitical import and stands in great tension with the naiveté with which both stereotypical liberals and stereotypical conservatives often address social problems. It is they who often are the utopian idealists, not the writers of Scripture. The Bible is much more realistic about the challenges posed by broken social systems. Scripture has no naiveté about the ease with which such brokenness can be made right.”
What Camp and many others observe is that the Church has failed to live faithfully to Jesus and God’s word in her engagement with American politics. The term “evangelical” has been co-opted by the right and lost its original meaning. It is now seen as a political identity rather than a faith identity. In this sense, the Church’s alignment with Jesus Christ, His salvation and way of life has been vandalized and disempowered as a witness to the world. In place of that witness, a different Jesus has taken shape.
The appropriate response to this is repentance. The danger is to think we can correct this by shaping Jesus into a democrat. Again, both parties are driven by the same unbiblical lie of human progress. A Jesus who looks like a democrat is no more faithful a witness than a Jesus who looks like a Republican.
Crickets…I can hear the frustration from republicans and democrats alike at this point, but bear with me.
Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God has broken in is meant to be shared in the public square. He has announced a new way of life, a new way of being human. What does it look like to be faithful to that King?
Again, Lee Camp expresses this really well:
“The great paradigmatic moment of political encounter in the founding narrative of the Christians comes with the gospel: ‘Change, and believe in the good news of the reign of God.’ This new political movement of God would entail specific practices unlike those of the nations, unlike those of the powers whom we have falsely assumed have the monopoly on political power. This new political movement would offer the world something at which kings and rulers would shake their heads: love of enemies, practices of reconciliation, sharing of wealth, honoring of marriage, renunciation of our varied practices of greed and lust, and an embrace of all the practices of life and mercy and kindness. Or thus said Jesus….
In all these and many compelling ways besides, the Scriptures call us to face the pain and brokenness of human history. And we are called to have the courage to play our part: to be brave as the soldier, committed as the activist, devoted as the evangelical, sedulous as the journalist—speaking to, acting for, sowing the seeds of the world that is on its way, knowing that it requires great labor, perseverance, and a willingness to suffer, and promises, too, on the journey, of deep joy and gladness, friends and fellow pilgrims, called as we are to be bearers of the end of history. We shall refuse to vindicate Marx by refusing to let our faith be an opiate of the masses; we shall face the pain and oppression squarely and proclaim the good news that the hope of all humankind, evoked in and out of our tears and cries and confusion and anger, has come, shall come. And we shall dare to live by it. So: No, history is not one damn meaningless thing after another. Moses, the prophets, and Jesus, each in their own way, insisted that history has a goal, a direction, an intrinsic and inescapable importance in the purposes of the Creator of all things good. And woe be unto those who stand in the way of this great God’s unfolding of this narrative, which will not be stopped until all that is beautiful and good and true is made manifest in our midst.”
Kingdom Citizens are a peculiar people. We believe that heaven has broken in through Jesus and have tasted its reality through the Holy Spirit. We know that every kingdom on earth will one day bow to the true King. We know that God and God alone will re-make the world the way He originally intended it to be. We know sin has infected and affected every heart and human institution. We know the only remedy is the offer of a new heart and a new birth in Jesus.
And we know we are called to bear witness to that world. We may differ on how to go about it. We may differ on the role politics can play, but we should never trust that our next president holds our future. Our future is in the hands of Jesus Christ and the Father who dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. THIS future is secure.
So we will not be private about this Good News, and we will not place our ultimate trust in one political party. We should be ashamed that the Church has, in some places, defended Trump’s character and vitriol against Black people, people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, and others. We should never assume the democrats will represent the church either.
Instead we will fight for justice for all people, and we will love our enemies. We will acknowledge our anger and pain, acknowledge the pain of others and seek to bring the healing of heaven to one another. We will no longer pretend that any political party has the market on God or His Church, and we will not settle for the naiveté of the world.
As people of God and His word, we are free to be realistic about the world and its brokenness. So we will cry out, suffer for and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. We will vote as good citizens, vote to glorify Jesus and, whenever possible, vote for policies and candidates that demonstrate love for our neighbors. We will consider the economy and jobs but also racial injustice and the marginalized. We will ask God for wisdom and seek first His Kingdom, so that even as we vote we might bear witness to another world.
And we will, I pray, seek the unity and peace of Christ for His Church and fight hard to be unified, knowing that no human power or institution should separate us. We all have work to do as Kingdom Citizens. We all have personal changes to make, so that together we can follow Jesus into His Kingdom and welcome people to the freedom of His reign.
Block quotes in this guide can be found in the following book:
Camp, Lee C. Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians. William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2020.
Begin by reading 1 Corinthians 13 aloud (try it from The Voice or The Message to shake up any over-familiarity with the language). Allow the invitation to love permeate your imagination for what is possible in the family of God.
Are you tired? Share it with one another. What made you tired this week?
You’re not alone. Before you begin to imagine all that you can do with this invitation to loving unity (and feel overwhelmed), remember Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
This invitation to love is Holy Spirit work. It is not something any one of us can just rally enough or dig deep enough to sustain. Until the Kingdom of God is all the way here, there will always be another conflict, another person in need, another loss….So our first work is to fall on our knees and pray. If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. Tell Jesus. Be honest. Borrow the prayers of your brothers and sisters across time and boundaries. Cry out to God.
Share with another about your prayer life:
What has been helpful?
What has been hard?
What do you want your prayer life to be like?
Close with this prayer from John M. Perkins’s book, One Blood:
Lord Jesus, teach us what it means to love like You love. Cause us to become uncomfortable with surface-level friendships. Help us to yearn and hunger for deep fellowship that is real and can be seen and that will light the way for those who are in darkness. Would you set ablaze in our hearts a passion for your Church. Lord, make us One. Make us rejoice when the other rejoices. Make us weep when the other weeps. Lord, make us One. For Your glory, Amen.
Is Jesus More Political Than Us?
Preachers in America, myself (Rick) included, tend to separate politics from the pulpit as much as possible. This approach implicitly adds to the mistaken impression that politics is public, while faith is private. For Jesus, this was not true. Everything about Jesus and His preaching was public, including His crucifixion. Pilate ordered a sign to hang above Jesus’ head that read “King of the Jews”, an unmistakable boast on the part of Rome to the Jewish people and Jesus’ followers. The message was: This is what happens when you threaten Caesar.
In the book of Acts we get a clearer picture of the relationship Jesus and the Apostles had to political power. Acts 1:6-8 tells the following:
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”
Jesus’ disciples clearly had the impression that His Kingdom was going to be physically restored, with Rome and all other empires placed under the feet of Jesus’ rule and reign. However, after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 2:1-4) the disciples understood Jesus’ words and began to put them into practice. In the power of the Spirit, they began giving witness to the resurrection and reign of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
The rest of the book of Acts helps us understand just how political this new Kingdom is and gives us insight into what those first followers of Jesus believed and practiced as they fulfilled the great commission (Matt 28:19-20). Here is what we discover:
• Jesus takes His reign not through treaties or negotiations with political and religious powers, but through suffering love, death and resurrection. This is always Jesus’ way. The Apostles continued the way of suffering love and sacrificing power in order to save others, and this is explicitly commanded to us, the Church. Suffering love is THE way of Kingdom Citizens. In Luke 4:6, we see Jesus being tempted by the devil. One of the temptations is to be given power to reign over all the kingdoms of the world. The only thing Jesus had to do in exchange was bow down and worship Satan.
• The strategy for Kingdom Citizens is always to bear witness to Jesus as the world’s true King. Though the Apostles obey God rather than Caesar, there is never a call to violent sedition. Instead, they are called to faithfully point others to God through Jesus’ way of sacrificial love. The empire in the book of Acts is reoriented around Jesus, not Caesar, and the disciples of Jesus are prepared to obey God rather than human authority (Acts 4:19-20).
• The Church becomes a new community living out a new way of life in Jesus (Acts 2:42). Much about this new way of life will be diametrically opposed to the empires of the world, but there will never be a call to topple the empire or respond to sinful regimes with violence. The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are clear about nonviolence. Imperial powers are not Jesus’ biggest foe. Human rebellion is the much larger concern for the mission of God. In His goodness, Jesus redeems us from our rebellion, which opens up new possibilities and ways of living within the empire—not over it.
• The announcement of Jesus as Lord demands a response. Will we accept Jesus as Lord by faith and accept His reign in our life, or will we oppose Him? Scripture puts the question of acceptance and faith to us and to Caesar. What will we do with the fact that Jesus is Lord?
• Finally, the Apostles never assume the empire is a vehicle to be conquered and used for advancing the Kingdom of God. The Apostles and the early Church understood that the Kingdom of God would be announced through the Church to the world. Jesus and His Kingdom have implications for earthly kingdoms, but those kingdoms always exist in subordination to this true Kingdom. Neither the world in which the book of Acts was written nor the world we live in now recognize the Kingdom of God as ultimate. The Church is the one place where Jesus is worshipped as the one true King, and we, His people, are surrendered to His way and reign.
When we surrender faithfully, the Kingdom breaks into earthly kingdoms slowly and in small ways. But it will finally and forever come in its fullness when Jesus puts the world right once and for all. Until then, we continue to write the book of Acts as Jesus’ people and ongoing witnesses who announce His reign and live in His way.
As we face our nation’s presidential election on Tuesday, we find peace in the knowledge that Jesus and His Kingdom are ultimate. The election is important, but not—as the media would have us believe—the final word. We are writing this continuing story of Acts, which may be a story of faithfulness or of rebellion. We will live out the suffering love of Jesus, or we won’t. We will reorient our lives around Jesus and His reign, or we will not. I believe we will be faithful to Jesus in the next chapter of our story.
I pray that as we Kingdom Citizens vote this week, we will vote to honor Jesus, our one true King. I pray we will vote with suffering love for others in mind. We can debate about specific policies and people, but the Jesus way of living (voting included) is to honor God and the way of suffering love. We can disagree over the people and policies, but let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. As brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s trust each other’s motives for voting a particular way. Let’s assume our brothers and sisters are voting to honor Jesus and love others too. Let’s not write each other off, but love one another deeply and learn from each other through compassionate listening. May we together bear witness to Jesus as we pray for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done.
1. What motivated the Apostles as they were on trial?
2. Describe a time when you felt put to a similar situation, one in which you needed to go against the norm or the flow in order to be faithful to Jesus.
3. In what ways did the Apostles demonstrate the suffering love of Jesus?
4. In what ways did they honor Jesus as their true King?
5. How did the Church respond to the arrest and trial?
6. What strikes you about this passage that can be applied to this moment for us as Kingdom Citizens?
1. Pray for our nation and the presidential election.
2. Pray for our local elections.
3. Pray for the nation’s response to the outcome of the election.
4. Pray for God’s people to have courage to bear witness to Jesus and his Kingdom during this election season.
5. Consider signing up for Election Week Prayer in Imago Dei’s Prayer Space and spend an hour praying for our nation.
Kingdom Citizens United in a Polarized World
The ballots have been counted, and we now know that Joe Biden has won the presidential election. No matter where you stand on the results, this election season has made one thing clear: Our country is deeply divided—not only over who we voted for, but also in more volatile ways.
My concern is that this division has crept inside the Church, where it has no place. Kingdom Citizens have ONE true King, Jesus Christ. We have been united by a bond so much stronger and more powerful than any election can accomplish.
How do we move forward and do the Kingdom-announcing work God has called us to do?
Here are a few thoughts:
1. Let’s seek to understand the other in the love of Christ. It is far too easy to look to extremes and paint every voter with the same brush. Not every Republican drives a jacked-up truck with Trump flags waving from the back. Not every Democrat is championing anarchy and Marxism. Still, Jesus calls us to see even those at the extremes of the political spectrum as image bearers of Christ. Each one is so loved by Jesus that even if they were the one person on earth, He still would have come and died to save them.
Reverend Dr. LeRoy Haynes (a pastor and civil rights leader here in Portland) teaches us that everyone carries that divine image, and it’s our job to love them and recognize their true humanity. (This is my summary of his quote. You can watch my conversation with Dr. Haynes here).
As Kingdom Citizens, we write no one off because no one is beyond redemption. So we love and pray for those we may not understand. The incarnation was God’s great act of speaking to us in the language of our humanity, so that we could understand God in the person of Jesus. Let’s seek to understand one another like that.
2. Let’s draw near to each other. The great challenge of the American democratic experiment at this moment is that we often don’t know people who think differently than us. The news media, social media and our geographic boundaries all feed us a constant stream of uncritical analysis and opinion.
Additionally, we have unfiltered access to constant information and misinformation. We form our opinions of each other in silos that silence the other.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. – Romans 12:15
When we don’t know each other, we don’t understand each other. Paul’s words to the Church in Rome de-center the people from the comfort and security of their silos and commands them [us] to move toward people who live, think and experience the world differently.
Paul breaks things down really simply and uses repetition to help us get the point:
Live in harmony—associate with people who aren’t like you, don’t be proud, don’t be conceited.
Perhaps a main driver of our polarization is simply that we don’t know each other. Let’s draw near to one another as Christ has drawn near to us.
3. Hold One Another’s Concerns. The Jesus way is the way of love for others. We bear one another’s burdens, weep with those who weep and love one another as Christ loved us. That’s the Jesus way and the only way Kingdom Citizens are called to live with one another. Keep in mind that some people are experiencing this moment much more intensely. For many, it’s not just a lost political race, but also a loss of security, opportunity and agency. I have talked to people on both sides of the aisle who feel that much more has been at stake for them and their families in this particular election.
What would it look like for you to help them hold those concerns? Not fix them or invalidate them, but hold their concerns with them and for them? Let us hold each other’s burdens as Christ has held us.
We are called to pray for our new president. The world will no doubt have strong and perhaps even violent reactions to the election results, but we are called to pray and make peace. The divisions within our nation will likely become more deeply rooted, but we are called to be Kingdom Citizens united in Jesus’ inseparable love. May we act out who we have been made to be.
Read Romans 12:9-21. Pause, then read it again slowly.
• Share with another person: What characteristics do you hear Paul inviting believers to embrace? Which characteristics stand out the most for you personally today?
• Earlier in Romans, Paul makes clear that this type of love is only possible when we invite the Holy Spirit to transform us, renew our minds and give us help. What do you want to ask God for yourself today?
Pray for one another and for the family of God.
Pray Romans 12 line by line for the Church in America, believing in hope that God will fill us with this genuine love when we ask Him.
• That we the Church would give our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice in worship.
• That we the Church would not copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but allow God to transform the way we think.
• That we the Church would not believe we are better than we really are, but would be honest in our evaluation of ourselves and measure ourselves by the faith God has given.
• That we the Church would function as one body that belongs to one another and embraces our gifts in order to share them well.
• That we the Church would have genuine love for one another.
• That we the Church would hate what is wrong and hold tightly to what is good.
• That we the Church would be patient in trouble and keep on praying.
• That we the Church would care for one another’s needs and be eager to practice hospitality toward one another.
• That we the Church would bless those who persecute us and not curse them.
• That we the Church would be happy with those who are happy and cry with those who are crying.
• That we the Church would live in harmony with one another and avoid thinking we know everything.
• That we the Church would never repay evil with evil.
• That we the Church would do everything we can to live at peace with everyone.
• That we the Church would not take revenge but leave that to the LORD.
• That we the Church would feed our enemies, give them fresh water to drink and conquer evil by doing good.
The Economy of the Kingdom
There has been much debate over the economy in our recent election. As Kingdom Citizens, we are not exempt from participation in the economic realities of where we live, work, shop and create. But how do we live out the values of Christ’s Kingdom while living in the midst of another, earthly kingdom?
Jesus spoke about money a lot! He spoke more about money than about faith and prayer combined. Eleven of His forty parables are about money. The question is, why? Why would the King of a heavenly kingdom talk so much about money?
The way we use and approach money reveals so much about our hearts. Jesus not only understood this, but directed much of His teaching to challenge the destructive ways in which our hearts tend to get wrapped around money.
Jesus knows we have an unlimited capacity to compartmentalize areas of our hearts in ways that protect our unspoken idols. Idols are those things or people we treasure more than we treasure Jesus Christ. In his teachings, Jesus directly confronted this idolatry time and time again:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24
Jesus asks us a crucial question here regarding His Kingdom economy. Do you serve money, or do you use your money to serve God?
Serve is an interesting word. To say that we “serve” money denotes that we are subjects and money is our master. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as serving money. However, when we find ourselves working 40-50 hours a week, trying to pay bills and stay above water, it can be hard not to feel like money is what rules us.
When we feel the overlord Money commanding us to make more, spend more and get more, we begin to believe the lie that more money is our ticket to more freedom. Who hasn’t dreamed of financial freedom? Jesus knows this; his warnings and commands to us come from a place of deep understanding and empathy.
This is why Jesus tells us that the freedom our hearts truly long for will never be found in money. We find it in the freedom He brings—the freedom to serve Him and to trust His gracious provision to meet our daily needs.
He tells us…
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25-34
We are Kingdom Citizens, cared for and provided for by our Heavenly Father. Our job is not to serve money, but to serve God by seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness while trusting that our Father knows our needs and will provide for them. Nothing creates more anxiety in our lives than money. Yet Kingdom Citizens are free from worry and anxiety because just as the Father feeds the birds, He will feed and clothe us and our children.
My daughter, Kaylee, loves birds, squirrels and every other animal on earth. Like, really loves them. She spends her money buying huge bags of birdseed and squirrel food. She buys bird feeders and bird baths. Our front porch is constantly filled with birds who seem to be the happiest and most worry-free creatures on earth.
God is providing for them through Kaylee. She’s been touched with love, and God uses her money to provide for the birds of the air and the squirrels on the ground. There is a childlike picture of the Kingdom here. When we use our resources to care for others, God uses our generosity to fulfill His promises. This is Kingdom economics in action. We are invited to store up treasures in the great bank of Christ. Through those gifts we find freedom and others find provision. Christ is glorified as we all are set free.
This is the radical value-shift for Kingdom Citizens: We love God and use money, not the other way around. We are truly free citizens who can practice radical generosity because we believe our God is the King of abundance.
It makes sense then that Jesus would tell us:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
– Matthew 6:20-21
As Kingdom Citizens, we live in an economy of abundance and treasure Christ our King above all else. Our hearts are free to act generously with our money and belongings because our ultimate treasure is in heaven, and that treasure is kept safe from the world’s corruption. Be free from worry. Be free from the pursuit of more. Be free from the not-enough. Be generous, for where our treasure is our heart will also be.
As we enter the last weeks of 2020, I am grateful for the way in which our Imago Dei family has practiced generosity and stored up much treasure in Jesus’ Kingdom. My prayer is that you will continue to give generously as we approach the end of the year. It takes all of us to make the mission of Imago Dei continue.
Would you pray and seek God in terms of your heart when it comes to money? Consider giving a gift that is first an act of worship and then an act of generosity. God will take care of us all, and so we trust in Him to meet our daily needs.
Read again through Matthew 6:19-34.
(From A Liturgy for the Paying of Bills)
Leader: O God Who Does Provide All Things Necessary for Our Lives
People: Be present with us now, in the paying of these bills.
For there is little in this life that will so starkly reveal our insecurities and our struggle to trust your tender care as will the state of our hearts when we consider the state of our finances.
When we are anxious about money, O Lord, we can slip so easily into the downward spiral of believing that simply having more of it would guarantee our security.
As if our security could ever rest anywhere outside of you, O God.
So guard our hearts against that lie….For we have you, and in having you, we have all things, and month-to-month you are teaching us- in this paying of bills- the slow vocation of trust.