Kingdom First. Rethinking Our Approach as a Church to Changing the World


North Korea.
NFL players protesting.

America seems to be in crisis. And people are starting to act a little passionate or crazy, depending on your perspective.

You know what happens at a time like this? The church is tempted to act like we are supposed to solve the world's problems. Like I want to fix all those things. I want the pain, oppression, and hurt to end. But here is the hard teaching I want us to consider today. That's not our calling. It’s not our calling to solve the world’s problems. Our calling is to be an example of the Kingdom. Doing that effectively will often overflow into the world and transform it as we live it out, but changing the world is not our goal. Changing ourselves is. Striving to be a community committed to following God no matter the cost without hate, violence, racism, or bigotry. A community filled with love toward one another, strangers, and enemies. A community that prays for those who persecute us and prays for those who oppress. The light of the world in the midst of darkness. That’s our calling. And we ask others to abandon their loyalty to the kingdoms of this world and join this better Kingdom.

Is this a cop out? I don't think so. It's focus is on that which we can change and be a part of. It's striving to be an example of a better alternative than what we see around us.

We are to be a kingdom without any forms of oppression where any person can come and experience God. We are called to right the wrongs of oppression in a better way. A way where the means are the end and not justified away to get to the end. A way where we sacrifice to bring it about rather than try to force others to bring it about.

Jesus lived in a time where he could have just done what we see going on in the world today. He could have protested loudly and violently. He could have tried to have the best marketing, the most violent and effective soldiers, and the most political clout to transform Rome. But he didn’t.

Instead, we can look at what Jesus did do. Here is what he said:
Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.  And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.  And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”  When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.  And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. Matthew 21:33-46 (ESV)
You see, Israel, the kingdom of God in the Old Testament, was failing to live up to what God had called them to be. So Jesus explained the plan. "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."

And this wasn’t anything new. Back in the time of Jeremiah, the prophet, six hundred years before Jesus, expected the same thing.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name:  “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”  Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:31-37 (ESV)
What we see throughout the Old Testament is the failure of Israel to actually be the people of God. A covenant is an agreement, and Israel broke their side of the covenant with God. Yet God's purpose in creating the covenant was so important that he wasn't going to let Israel's obstinance and disobedience stop Him from bringing about His will. God was patient, and time and time again he waited on them to come around. But, as we see in what Jesus taught, the time was up. The time of a new covenant had arrived. As Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” 600 years from the time of Jeremiah, and the people of Israel still hadn’t got their act together. There were glimpses here and there, but, overall, they were not being the people God wanted.


So God came down to earth as Jesus and took a different approach. He assembled a group of disciples and mentored them. Teaching them how to live the life He wanted them to live through example. And this group, guided by the Holy Spirit, did the same to others. On and on, through the ages, until it gets to you and me. People who have been discipled by people who have been discipled in a line that goes all the way back to Jesus. We, the church of today, are part of this community that Jesus established to transfer the kingdom of God to.

Jesus was assembling a group of people who would be who God always intended Israel to be, a better alternative than what we see around us. So when the world says protest and tear down, Jesus gave a different alternative.

I am glad that Jesus didn’t try to change the world through protest and killer memes. Although I do enjoy a funny meme. Instead he chose love, sacrifice, and investing in an alternative community. That radical example is still the call for us today.

Being right with God isn’t about just having the right belief statements; nor the right heritage as the nation of Israel mistook it for at times; it’s about walking the same path that Jesus walked while being guided by the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives. It’s about being God’s hands and feet in a world that desperately needs them. It’s about modeling an alternative way of living in a world filled with selfishness and hate.

This kingdom revolution that Jesus started continues today. It’s not a matter of whether it is happening or not. It’s about whether we are going to be part of it or not. Are we going to live our lives actively participating in God’s kingdom? Are we going to choose the kingdom ways that are countercultural to American ways? Are we going to love our enemies? Are we going to bless those who persecute us and pray for them? Are we going to honor our leaders even when they are on the opposing side? Are we willing to be different?

Jesus didn’t stand up and attack the oppressors. He didn’t argue that his hate is legitimate and then harm the people who opposed him to get rid of their hate. Instead, he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" as he hung on the cross being murdered due to their hate. And that radical forgiveness was given to the people who literally nailed him to a cross and mocked him. Jesus modeled love even in the midst of the greatest form of hate.

And I’m not neglecting the story of him driving out the profiteers in the temple. But that was in the temple, the one place on earth out of all places that should have been exemplifying his kingdom. This was aimed at religious people not acting like they were supposed to. They were desecrating that which should have been holy. Jesus had all authority in the Temple to do what he did. It was His place. His house, but it wasn’t modeling His way. Now they didn’t see it that way, and that was actually part of the problem. The temple where Jesus drove out the profiteers wasn't an example of what God’s kingdom was supposed to look like, just like some churches aren't a good example of God’s kingdom today. Maybe they are also dangerously close to receiving the treatment that the nation of Israel received. Revelation has a lot of threats about removing His candlestick, his light, out of churches. Just because we are in the church doesn’t mean that we’re right with God. And likewise, if we are outside of the church, the physical manifestation of God’s kingdom – the outpost, the embassy of God’s kingdom here on earth - we aren’t right with God either.

Instead of being like the world and fighting the battles of the world, Jesus taught an alternative kingdom and an alternative way to live in community with our fellow sojourners. He didn’t try to transform Rome. Instead, He encouraged people to not accept the emperor as their emperor and instead allow Him to be their king. King Jesus.

Jesus transitioned the kingdom of God in the form of Israel to being the kingdom of God in the form of the church. He was shaping a community under the authority of God that exemplified people living in right relationship with one another and with God. This is what we are supposed to be doing. This is how we change the world. This is the vessel through which God’s power flows. Being an active part of the community of God, the church, is our calling.

And it calls for an alternative lifestyle than what we often see around us. I serve a King who tells me to bless those who persecute me, love my enemies, and pray for them. Nowhere does Jesus tell me to try to make them conform to my beliefs or that I should oppress them.


We can look around at Christianity and find people taking this alternative approach.

Mother Teresa was one of those. She began her ministry in Calcutta, India in 1950 with 13 people.  By 1996, she was operating 610 missions in 123 countries with 4,000 sisters, 300 brothers, and 100,000 lay volunteers. This wasn’t through government support but through the support of the church.

She exemplified change through church. The world only knows how to bring about change the way they are trying. So, in a way, we can’t blame them for the chaos we are seeing. We know a different way.

Shane Claiborne was being interviewed about her death because he was an American voice to her story as he had done an internship under her. He shared in his book Irresistible Revolution, "To be honest, Mother Teresa died a long time ago, when she gave her life to Jesus.  The joy and compassion and love that the world finds so magnetic are only Jesus, and that is eternal.”

Claiborne goes on:
“Mother Teresa was one of those people who sacrificed great privilege because she encountered such great need.  People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like.  Sometimes it’s like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo.  She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery, like a beautiful wise old granny.  But there is one thing I will never forget—her feet.  Her feet were deformed.  Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. 

“I wondered if she had contracted leprosy.  But I wasn’t going to ask, of course.  “Hey Mother, what’s wrong with your feet?”  One day a sister said to us, “Have you noticed her feet?”  We nodded, curious.  She said, “Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them.  And years of doing that have deformed her feet.”  Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet. (Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution 167-168).
Sacrifice rather than power. Love over hate. Service instead of selfishness.

This is what we are called to. Suffering to make things better. She could have protested and boycotted, but instead she chose love. She started to just solve the problem that she saw rather than expected others to.


But, and here is the dangerous truth today, I think we mess up being an example of God’s kingdom because we think the kingdom of America is more important than the kingdom of God. We may not say it verbally, but we say it with our actions.

If you can recite the pledge of allegiance more easily than the Lord's prayer, you might have an idolatry problem.

If you are more concerned with someone's posture during the National Anthem than their posture during worship or whether they even attend church, you might have an idolatry problem.

Because saying Jesus is Lord is actually a rallying cry in a real, material sense. We are proclaimint that we are leaving the kingdoms of this world and being part of the kingdom of God. Whether you’re an Iraqi, Chinese, Russian, German, or American, calling Jesus King means placing loyalty to the kingdom of God above any other loyalty. It means, when we truly mean it, that God’s kingdom becomes our focus. We will seek it first. I have to make sure God's kingdom is doing things right – not America. I do not have to focus on Caesar's kingdom or Babylon. Instead, I seek the kingdom of God. His place and His ways.

Jesus’ kingdom is both political and spiritual. It’s tangible and invisible. Although we have been struggling against the idea that it is only invisible since the Reformation.

We are still in the world and do not disobey the state except for where it conflicts the teachings of the kingdom. But to then jump and say that we are to try and force the world to adhere to Christian ethics goes beyond our calling. We are not called to force the world to behave like Jesus wants. Instead, we are to spend our times investing in God’s kingdom, the church, so that it models to the world what Jesus wants.

The church is more materially meaningful than most give it credit for. Even Christians.

Together, we are supposed to be the change we want to see happen in the world. We are to live it out. Blacks need to be treated equal, so we treat them equal. The poor need fed, so we feed them. If the education system was bad in our community, I would say that we should start a school. We are called to be used by God to create His kingdom in the church and model His perfect will here on earth. We are to be a place where the wrongs are righted. A kingdom that shows the world what we were created to live for.

Now, that may seem off a little. If so, it’s because we don’t share the core convictions that shape this idea.

And it starts with the idea that  the kingdom of God has transitioned from the nation of Israel to the Church. America is not God’s new kingdom; the church is. This is why I like to view Jesus’ role here on earth as being a Jewish revolutionary. He took the ideas from the old covenant, that we have in our old testament, and transitioned them into a new covenant, the ideas that we have in the New Testament. The promises that applied to the nation of Israel in the old covenant have transitioned to applying to the new Israel, the church.

As Paul wrote:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:28-29 (ESV)
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Romans 9:6-8 (ESV)
And then he went on to explain in Galatians:
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 (ESV)
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Galatians 6:15-16 (ESV)
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)
Paul is clarifying that the people who are now Israel, God’s kingdom, are no longer included in God’s kingdom based upon whether they are the biological offspring of Abraham. Instead, they are now the people who are the faith offspring of Abraham. People who follow in His faith are the people of Israel now.

Circumcision was the mark of the Old Covenant, and it was an issue of contention in the early church. Paul wrote Galatians to deal with that. People were still arguing that the nation of Israel was the kingdom of God and that people needed to follow the laws of Israel to be right with God. It was necessary to be circumcised to be a Jew, part of Israel. But Paul, in arguing against that point, is also making the point that being part of Israel isn’t based upon the old covenant any longer. It’s no longer about being circumcised. It’s about faith in the heart. It was that time where Jesus mentioned where
“the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” It’s the realization of the day Jeremiah foretold of where God said he would establish a new covenant and said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Being a citizen of God’s kingdom is about the Spirit living in us. Being the people together who God wanted humanity to always be.

Paul is pointing out that Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary who brought about the transition of the Kingdom of God from being the nation of Israel to being the new people of Israel, the Church. And this truth, when truly held changes our actions.


For no longer do we think the world needs to change. We change. And if it means that we suffer for bringing about good, we do that. And this isn’t just something for the rockstars of the faith like Mother Teresa. It’s for people like you and me.

I think of my friends in Hope 2 Liberia, who were on a mission trip in Liberia and were convicted that this can’t be just a one-off thing. Since then, 1000s of Liberians have been given access to clean drinking water. And they have also started a school that 100s of Liberian children are already getting a better future from. Kingdom living spinning out of their church in Muncie, Indiana, changing the world.

This isn’t the approach of making the world bring about justice. Of us protesting loudly and making the powers that be provide us with the solution. This is the approach of having justice just overflow from who we are as followers of Jesus. We bring about the right through being the right ourselves.

Even little things we have done. When I was at Antwerp Community Church, I had the dream of a soccer league in Antwerp as I felt it was a need that wasn’t being met to provide some community and fun. I left the church, but the league was already a plan and it happened. It still happens to this day.

We started the Kid’s Clothes Closet years back. But a volunteer sort of adopted it a few years into it. And she just ran with it making it a better thing than we dreamed of. So the dream of the Kid’s Clothes Closet providing clothing for people in need in our area is still flourishing.

And the School Supply Project was actually birthed through a book study when we were reading Irresistible Revolution, the book the Mother Teresa story I shared earlier came from. And we still help kids in community with it. Would I prefer the school just provide supplies for kids in need? Absolutely. But they don’t. And we don’t protest or try to make the school or the government provide the things that are needed for all students. Instead, we just do it.

Have their been failures? Yes. The youth center is the most daunting one in my mind, but that doesn’t make us stop just trying to be a better example of the kingdom of God. A place where God’s will materializes in our midst.

We can’t do everything. We’re a small group with limited resources. But we serve a God who sees the big picture and has unlimited resources. So we just need to faithfully be who He is calling us to be. And working together here in the church doing that, we will make a difference by just being the Kingdom of God. And together, churches who respond faithfully to this call in our community, throughout our State, and around the world, we give us glimpses of God’s kingdom making an impact everywhere.

And that’s our calling. To be the better place – the kingdom of God – in the midst of the world. We really already are the kingdom; we just need to live in that truth. We change instead of expecting others to change. We sacrifice instead of protesting. We love even in the midst of hate. We are the new creation Paul was talking about. We are called to produce fruits of the kingdom as Jesus taught. We are living in the new covenant Jeremiah dreamed about. Let’s focus on that rather than the chaos around us. Let us strive to be the community God has called us to be. Let us be the kingdom.