Like a good series, the individual episodes of our lives weave together into a larger story. Writers of good television shows know where the show is going. Every episode builds towards a common story line. When a writer doesn’t have a clear road map of the where the story is going, episodes stick out because it appears that they are not building towards a common goal.
Often our lives can feel like poorly written television episode within God's bigger story. Because we don’t have a clear picture of where we are going we can drift away from being part of building God’s kingdom here on earth.
When Jesus was on earth he constantly proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe.” he taught the disciples to follow him into bringing his kingdom here. There was a clear goal. The road map was neatly laid out. The disciples still stumbled along the path, the stories filled with dramatic twists and turns. Despite their failings, they were part of a bigger story.
Somehow, we’ve lost that sense of purpose. Often our lives don’t feel like they are marching towards a common goal. We aimlessly wander. And in our wandering state, discipleship has become increasingly more about correct thought and behavior and less about building God’s kingdom. Our stories don’t seem to be marching towards one direction, but rather staying in place.
In the small town where I live, we have a plethora of great churches. People are hearing about Jesus on a regular basis. And because we are “drinking town with a football problem” we also are a destination site for evangelistic outreaches. People travel here to practice street preaching and contact evangelism. As a result, everyone knows about Jesus and the churches are filled with people who have a genuine relationship with Jesus.
Our town is also incredibly poor. We are the third poorest county in Georgia. Our city is just now trying to pass an ordinance to require bouncers to let all people – regardless of their skin color – into bars. Systematic racism and systematic poverty flourish in this town unabated by the multitudes of Christians.
In every coffee shop, people huddle around scripture desperately trying to find out how to follow God, ignoring God’s invitation to build his kingdom right outside the door.
Our town is not the exception, but the norm. Christians are called to bring God’s kingdom here, but those that are actively bringing about a world where God makes “everything new” are in the minority.
However, God has given us a clear road map. in the book of Revelation, John gives us a picture of what the Kingdom of God is like, he writes:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ no mourning or crying or pain for the old order for things has passed away.” He who seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this and I will be their God and they will be my children.
This road map is often overlooked. We opt instead to dwell on pop culture’s view of heaven – the pearly gates where all our hopes and desires are realized. And because the focus is on a heaven that is far away, we don’t see John’s vision of a new earth as the goal to our own story.
When the focus becomes about the pearly gates, following Jesus becomes about getting into heaven. Discipleship is then about behavior modification and orthodoxy thought. Our relationship with Jesus centers around talking about Jesus over a cup of coffee instead of saying yes to his invitation to build his kingdom here.
This form of Christianity has created enclaves of Christians that live in a broken world that is unaffected by their presence.
My freshmen year, I was beginning to explore a relationship with Jesus. Having grown up in the church I had heard about heaven. I imagined it to be a bunch of people sitting around campfire singing kumbaya. That view of heaven left me wondering why some of my friends were so eager to get there.
Midway through my freshmen year, I began to learn about God’s kingdom. My InterVarsity staff worker talked to me about what it looked like to bring God’s kingdom to where I was. Instead of talking about God, she helped me learn how to follow him. I began to volunteer, engage in justice issues, lead bible studies in my sorority and water polo team and started talking about race. God’s kingdom come became more than a line in the Lord’s prayer. It became my desire.
As I followed Jesus into bringing “a new heaven and a new earth” to Emory, I saw more of God. Like a toddler, I stumbled after him. Each stumble helped me see how I was part of the story of bringing God’s kingdom here.
This active form of discipleship comes from the pages of the gospels. Jesus didn’t disciple the apostles over a cup of coffee, while they watched the world pass them by. Instead they joined Jesus in healing the sick, teaching, feeding the crowds and bringing peace. Actively, engaging in mission with God drew them closer to Jesus.
Like the original apostles, Jesus wants us to follow him into bringing his kingdom here. He wants us to join him in healing this broken world so that we can know him more fully. Each of our stories are meant to fit into God’s. If John’s picture of a new heaven is our road map, our lives will be directed towards bringing God’s kingdom here.