Thinking Out Loud

June 28, 2018

Choosing Kingdom Over Empire

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

Several years back, I got to know Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon. As I read his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon (where he takes his weekly sermon and shrinks it) I realized it was an absolutely perfect fit for Christianity 201 (our sister blog) and so his writing appears there most Thursdays. Today, I wanted to give readers here a taste for what Clarke writes there, and as this is today’s C201 post, many of you get to read it here first for a change! You can also read it at Clarke’s blog.

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself” and then went on to define our neighbor as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

1 Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
2 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
3 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.

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July 3, 2011

Radical Together by David Platt

You can begin reading some of Chapter One of Radical Together here, or click the link at the bottom to open your own .pdf file of the entire chapter. (There’s much more in the preview than what’s here and it’s easier to read!)

Before Mark came to the Church at Brook Hills (the church I
serve), he had spent practically his entire adult life involved in
church programs and serving on church committees. “You name
it, and I did it,” Mark said. “I was on finance teams and personnel
teams. I worked on capital building campaigns and sat in long term
planning sessions. Every week my schedule was filled with
church activity.”

After becoming a part of our faith family,Mark started hearing
people talk about making disciples. That’s when he realized
that, despite all the good things he had done in the church, he
could not name one person outside his family whom he had led
to Christ and who was now walking with Christ and leading others
to Christ.Mark said to me, “David, I have spent my life doing
all the stuff in the church that I thought I was supposed to do.

But I’m realizing that I have missed the most important thing:
making disciples.” At his workplace and in our community, Mark
is now intentionally leading people to Christ and teaching them
to follow him.

The story of Mark’s life as a Christian should frighten us.The
last thing you and I want to do is waste our lives on religious activity
that is devoid of spiritual productivity—being active in the
church but not advancing the kingdom of God.We don’t want to
come to the end of our days on earth only to realize that we have
had little impact on more people going to heaven. Yet if we are not
careful, we will spend our lives doing good things in the church
while we ultimately miss out on the great purpose for which we
were created.

That’s why I say one of the worst enemies of Christians can
be good things in the church.

Of course, some will disagree with my claim. “How can good
things in the church really be one of our worst enemies?” some
might ask. “Sin and Satan are our worst enemies,” they might say.
And they would have a point.  But let me point something out: We
know sin and Satan are our enemies. We know we need to be on
our guard against them. But too often we’re oblivious to the threat
posed by the good things we’re doing. We’ve laid down our
defenses against the way that the good can hinder the best. In this
sense, good things can subtly and effectively become one of our
worst enemies.

As Christians today, you and I can easily deceive ourselves
into thinking that dedication to church programs automatically
equals devotion to kingdom purposes. We can fill our lives and our
churches with good things requiring our resources and good activities demanding our attention that are not ultimately best for the enjoyment of the gospel in our churches and the spread of the
gospel in our communities.

We must be willing to sacrifice good things in the church in
order to experience the great things of God.

continue reading the preview chapter with this link:  .pdf file

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