“Advancing or Embracing the Kingdom”

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, “The time has come”, he said. “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

It was a typical Tuesday. The staff gathered around the table to go over the business of the church. At one point in the meeting the statistics from Sunday were passed out. As I read the monthly report my heart sunk. Our attendance was down slightly again this month. I could feel my face flush with frustration, and my dark side wanting to point fingers at others rather than take a hard look in the mirror. Like looking in the mirror and not liking what you see this simple report darkened my day.

For two years I had been pushing to take our church to the next level. We reorganized, started a new worship service, advertised, and knock on a few doors, but little changed. Too often my self-esteem gets chained to the wrong reports. Instead of hearing the voice from heaven, I hear that inner voice crying loudly “do more…work harder…earn it…prove how good you are.” This sarcastic voice too often drowns out the inner voice of God seeking to bless me for who I am not what I do.

That evening as I was muddling over the events of the day in the back of my mind. I picked up a little book entitled This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley. Rick was unknown to me until West Texas A&M invited him to speak on campus. The dean asked me to be part of this event. To learn more about Rick and his message I pick up a copy of his book and began to read as an act of discovery. To my surprise I discovered myself on the pages of his book.

Rick’s theme for the book is the Kingdom of God. A theme that echoed in the words of Jesus but is often lost in the rhetoric of the Western Church. Rick shared his early encounters with the Kingdom and I saw my heart laid bare on the printed page.  He wrote:

Eventually my spiritual bubble burst. I realized that Jesus did not want to help me be a better king. Neither did He want to be king of my kingdom at all. Really, I was a lot like those patriotic crowds in Palestine who wanted Him to be king of their country. I was simply trying to get God to endorse my agenda. But He would have none of it.

At the time it felt like a crisis. God seemed to be stepping away from me, almost abandoning me. I was unsure what the problem was. Had God quit liking me? Didn’t He appreciate the plans I was making for the two of us?” (Rick McKinley, The Beautiful Mess p.36)

As I read these words I could see myself trying to force my crown on Jesus’ head like a sacred “crown of thorns” as it were. I wanted Jesus to do my will. I wanted him to build my kingdom. Granted, I gave lip service to making Jesus king, but it was on my terms, in my timing, and in my kingdom. It is sad how blind the teacher can be at times!

By grace the Lord is opening again my eyes to a lesson He has tried to teach me time and time again. I guess you could say I am slow when it comes to realizing that it is not about me, but it is about Him. Jesus is my King, and He invites me to be a servant of His Kingdom.

Being part of His Kingdom is more a matter of “being” than “doing”. It is embracing the reality that I am a child of God and learning to live with childlike joy and innocence–and dependence.

Rick McKinley adds: “We’re so inclined to try to make things happen for God. Every week we’re tempted to get out a measuring stick. Did we get higher? Are we sliding down? And we figure God is measuring us too–but God is not measuring anything. He only wants us to live in a dimension that is already there. Week after week, He is simply inviting us to be part of what He is already doing”. (McKinley, The Beautiful Mess, pg. 61-62)

I knew that, but I keep forgetting it in my relentless striving to move up the ladder of leadership success and excellence. Henry Blackaby taught me that less in his classic Experiencing God when  he pointed out that effectiveness is “joining God in His work”.

Simply put the Lord spoke to me through my brother Rick to remind me that Kingdom living is not “advancing the Kingdom”, but rather “embracing the Kingdom” and seeing the King at work all around you–especially in the day to day simple circumstances of your heart and life. You simply needs eyes to see and ears to hear!


Filed under Devotion

6 responses to ““Advancing or Embracing the Kingdom”

  1. Wesley Shotwell

    Who among us has not been there? My greatest relief was when I decided that my self worth was not dependant on how many people showed up for Sunday School on a given day. Furthermore, the Kingdom of God is not ending because someone decided to go hunting on Sunday, much to my chagrin. When I divorced my self worth from the actions of people I could not control I found freedom.


  2. Wesley

    Thanks for the reminder that I am not alone. Freedom from “stink’in thinking” is a gift we can all enjoy!

    Have a great week.


  3. David:

    Great post. I’m ordering the book from Amazon.com today. This is one of those things that I have to remind myself of almost every day. It’s hard when you allow yourself to be ruled by the numbers. It’s suicidal when your self-esteem is riding on them. I’ve been on that roller coaster ride before … I got off (at least for now). For some reason, the temptation to get back on is great.

    We stopped “counting” attendance and baptisms and offerings about two years ago. Oh … we still take a count … and we still look at it from time to time … but we now spend most of our time telling the stories.

    When we want to know … is the church growing? … we ask … how many stories do you have to tell? Stories of people we know who are coming to Christ, people who are winning people to Christ, having their lives changed, serving (when before they were not), engaged (when before they were not). We like to count the number of people in our church who still call the “worship service” … “mass.” “That was a great mass today, father Ellis!!” And I say, “Bless you, my child.” Or the woman that no one, in a million years, would have guess to be a great leader … and suddenly she is running our “Angel Food Ministry,” better than anyone before her. Those kinds of stories. When you start looking for them, they’re all over the place … God doing it with or without you (and sometimes in spite of your “leadership.”) While I was counting noses, God was busy with real Kingdom work.

    How many did we have on Sunday? I have no idea. It seems to me that it was a low Sunday (the Sunday after Thanksgiving always is). Are we growing? I’m not sure. I sense that we are … we’ve stalled in some ways … we’re exploding in other ways … but, overall, I’m not sure. Do I feel bad about any of this? No. I have peace. Now … if we start to run dry on those stories then I start to feel bad.


  4. Lee

    On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, our church always gathers together for a banquet, which we call “Thanks and Giving.” After the meal, we have a time of giving thanks together in our auditorium. This year, we “told stories” about how God was moving among us, particularly in our efforts to attach ourselves to non-Christians in order to share the gospel. We had an emphasis earlier in the fall, called “Samaritan’s Challenge” in which we asked our members to pray and let God lead them to a particular “neighbor” with whom they would begin to develop a relationship. Thirty-two of our members offered to participate.

    The stories didn’t quite turn out the way most people anticipated they would at the beginning. Several of the “neighbors” moved, some relationships didn’t develop like they were supposed to, but some of them did “catch.” Ultimately, to me, the fact that we have lights going on related to the fact that being a neighbor in the community in which we live is the best way to share our faith and make an impact for the kingdom, and that these relationships will turn into disciple-making and building relationships, is the main thing. We do count, because we are Baptist and we still have some people for whom that is important. But the only figure I pay attention to is the number of people who come to our Sunday evening home fellowship groups that have no connection to the church in any other way. Those are the people we are reaching with the gospel.

    I’m going to order that book as well.

    Last year, just for the nose-counters, I organized a massive effort for a good, old fashioned, “high attendance day” in Sunday school. We organized, promoted, called, encouraged and conducted a campaign worthy of a stewardship emphasis. I set a goal of 300, which is what we normally run in worship on a good Sunday, and about 20% more than our regular Bible study attendance. We even planned to do it on the Sunday that the time fell back an hour, so that we could catch a few people who forgot to set their clocks. I knew we were not even going to come close to the goal when I woke that morning to the sound of heavy rain pounding on the roof. Six inches fell before we got to the early service at church, the street in front of the church was flooded, and heavy rain continued to fall all morning long, a total of 13.5 inches by the time it was over. We had 189.

    My wife said, “Honey, sometimes God’s plans are not your plans.”

  5. Dear Ellis and Lee,

    Thank you for your thoughts and openness. I really like the idea of “counting stories”. I have been a Baptist too long. Nickels and noses have too often been the measuring stick of effectiveness and success in my world.

    You live in a world that I would like to enter. Maybe in fact you are part of a Kingdom that I am a member of, but I have been living by the standards of a darker side.

    I love the story about the 13.5 inches of rain. If I could count on that happening in the Panhandle of Texas whenever we had a high attendance day our ranchers would require we have a high attendance day every month. (Out here, we dance in the rain!)

    I pray your tribe will increase and our King will be the joy of our hearts.

    David Lowrie

  6. spiritualsamurai

    Abu Ben Adam to all.

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