It was in the late 1990s that I started to look at our broken world through the lens of the 6 Broken Places. We had begun Grace Church about nine years before in 1991. We were a fast-growing church in suburban Indianapolis expanding beyond our capacity to figure things out.
All along I had felt somewhat ill prepared to lead such an organization. Mostly I just did the next thing necessary and tried to direct us to do what the church is supposed to do…or what I thought the church was supposed to do. Frankly, I was kinda lost. I knew that people were looking for a clear call to action but wasn’t sure how to form a coherent, compelling, sticky vision. So, I read. (And prayed, of course.) I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on about leadership in the local church.
And then I discovered something that, frankly, was news to me. It was about a concept that had been under my nose for as long as I had been reading the Bible. Something I had studied in my college bible school education but frankly, never understood …or more to the point, mis-understood. It was the idea of The Kingdom of God…make that the revolutionary idea of the Kingdom of God.
Really, the concept is hard to miss, especially in the Gospels as Jesus referred to it again and again:
Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:14-15)
But, for years I had mistakenly, or ignorantly simply equated, the Kingdom of God with heaven itself, something to be enjoyed post-mortem in paradise. Or spiritualized it as some kind of metaphor of my own soul before God. Or, shoved it way out into some future reality after Jesus had returned, cleaned shop, and permanently installed this kingdom on a re-created planet. I honestly never considered that the Kingdom of God could be…would be…here and now! A clear and present reality introduced by Jesus Himself. The reign of God, not delayed, and not in part. Fully available and graspable right at this very moment.
Several authors woke me up to the near and present Kingdom of God but none more effectively than the late Dallas Willard. Willard, through his book The Divine Conspiracy, opened a doorway into a new world of mission and vision and purpose. He absolutely captivated me with his exposition and explanation of the Kingdom of God. Here is how Dallas described the Kingdom of God:
The Kingdom of God is “a pilgrimage into the heart and life of God, a life that has the quality of eternity.” It is “the rule of God, now present in the person of Jesus himself. It is God’s program for human history.”
As I read Willard’s and the others’ eye-opening explanations of the Kingdom, I was stunned. How on earth did I miss this? I had read and re-read these words of Jesus…
“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)
…and realized I had totally skimmed over the word “near” (which means immediate imminence). I had pushed the marvelous reign of God out to some indeterminate future. And I realized that I had limited the good news of the Kingdom to post-mortem bliss (heaven after you die) and did not see any of its social, physical, psychological and relational transformation possibilities in this very life.
What a revelation this all was to me! And an embarrassment.
Once past this awakening I started to turn my attention to practical matters of application, especially for my church. What did it all mean? How do we grasp it? What does it mean to pray for the Kingdom of God to come?
And what did it mean for the church to be given the keys of the kingdom? How could those keys, presumably, unlock the power of the Kingdom?
I say to you that…upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
And, wait…could we indeed storm the gates of hell and knock them down? And this… if the Kingdom of God is present then how would we know? What are its signs and indications? How would life be different under God’s rule? If God was ruling or reigning at a particular moment in history at a specific place on the planet how would we know?
In short…what are the evidences of the Kingdom of God? I started a list of what I called the evidences of the Kingdom. And I kept digging through the scriptures.
I accumulated, I categorized and I sorted. Here’s what I came up with...