The Kingdom of God and the Kingdoms of This World

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we continued our series, “The Kingdom of God” by exploring the ways in which our citizenship in the kingdom interfaces with our earthly citizenship. I proposed that we need to live by the power of the Holy Spirit as exiles in and for the world, concluding with five practices that may help us live this out.

You can view the message video and outline for the message is below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

“Jesus is Lord!”

  • The closeness of the kingdom and responding to Jesus (Mark 1:15)
  • The fundamental declaration of faith (Romans 10:9)
  • Everything is subject to Christ and God’s kingdom (Philippians 2:10-11)

Kingdom Citizens: Recognizing our Dual Citizenship

  • We are citizens of God’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20)
  • We are citizens of earthly kingdoms

Living by the Spirit as Exiles in the World

  • Remember God’s kingdom is a different sort of kingdom (John 18:33-36)
  • Remember we are a holy nation established by God in Christ (1 Peter 2:9-10)
  • Remembering we are exiles scattered in the world (1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:11-12)
  • Remember God has delegated authority to earthly rulers and kingdoms (John 19:10-11; Romans 13:1-2)

Living by the Spirit as Exiles for the World

  • Living as exiles for the blessing of the places we are scattered by God (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
  • Living as good citizens within the structures as established by God (Romans 13:1-7)
  • Living in Christian service in relation to the needs of the world (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Living prophetically in relation to the powers and authorities (Acts 4:8-20)

Five Practices of Kingdom Citizens amidst Earthly Kingdoms

  • Hold to our primary citizenship
  • Discern the times and agendas
  • Walk by the Spirit
  • Maintain perspective
  • Live in the tension of hope

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the theme of the kingdom of God in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Romans 10:9 or Philippians 3:20.
  • Take time to meditate on Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate in John 18:33-36; 19:10-11. Respond to the passage by drawing, painting, journaling, or going for a walk to pray.
  • Based on this message and study guide, talk with a friend or journal on your own about what it means to live in the tension of hope as a citizen of the kingdom of God and a citizen of an earthly kingdom.
  • Join us for the Leadership Community with Dr. Vince Bacote on Monday, September 28, at 7 PM, as he speaks on “The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life.”

The Pilgrim Way: relearning life as a journey with God from the faithful in Hebrews 11

pilgrim way.jpgAn old spiritual offers describes our life as Christians this way:

I am a pilgrim and a stranger, traveling through this wearisome land,
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord, and it’s not…not made by hands.

It is an overused description to say that life is a journey. The reason this idea is overused, even cliché, is that it is true. We are, as the Apostle Peter writes: “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). Day after day, year after year, we move along the twisting path of our lives until we reach some sort of destination. Of course, many people perceive the destination differently but the author of the letter to the Hebrews says that past people of faith “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth….seeking a homeland….they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

This theme returns throughout Scripture, coming to striking focus in the psalms of Ascent. The concept of pilgrimage guides the journey of the psalms of Ascent (see our seeries Ascend: A Study of the Psalms of Ascent), which is outlined as a practice of God’s people in Deuteronomy 16:16-17:

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.  Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

Pilgrimage is something woven throughout the faith life of the Hebrew people. It is something Jesus Himself participated in with His family and neighbors, traveling to Jerusalem at least twice in his early life that are recorded in Scripture (Luke 2:22-38, 41-51), but likely more often than that.

Yet, pilgrimage is a foreign concept to most of us in North America. While we turn to vacations to help us recover from life, the idea of taking a religious journey is not something we search for too often. The concept of religious pilgrimage, however, is not only part of other faith traditions, but is woven into the history of Christianity as well. The Camino do Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, a well-worn pilgrimage route through Europe has become an increasingly well-known in North America, perhaps in part due to the movie “The Way” featuring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

In his book, The Way is Made by WalkingArthur Paul Boers relates his own journey on the Camino, offering insights about how this physical pilgrimage taught him about the spiritual pilgrimage of our life with God in Christ. Here is an excerpt that gives the feel of why we need to recovery pilgrimage as a guiding metaphor for our spiritual lives:

Pilgrimage in its truest sense is religiously motivated travel for the purpose of meeting and experiencing God with hopes of being shaped and changed by that encounter. Pilgrimages are often concretely physical – journeying to a particular place, perhaps with some extraordinary expense and exertion – and spiritual – one hopes to meet God in this travel.

An irony – indeed a danger – of pilgrimage is that we try to settle in a final destination, considering only that particular place holy and forgetting the call to be faithfully on the move for God. Think of Peter wanting to remain on the mountain where he, John and James (Santiago) experienced the transfiguration: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” His suggestion is dismissed: “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (Mark 9:5-6). Christian pilgrimage always calls us to further growth. As Origen wrote: “Travelers on the road to God’s wisdom find that the further they go, the more the road opens out, until it stretches to infinity.”

Pilgrimage sites are not merely an end in themselves. They are not strictly speaking even necessary. They richly symbolize the fact that our lives are to be a journey with and to God. Even if not all of us can afford or are able to go to famous places for prayer, every time we venture to church for worship we make a small pilgrimage to deepen our faithfulness. The Greek word paroikia means “sojourn” and is “also the root of English word ‘parish’, meaning a congregation of pilgrims.”

I love that phrase at the beginning of the last paragraph: “our lives are to be a journey with and to God.” Wherever we are today, let’s lift our legs for one more step, lift our hearts to our God, and fix our eyes on the eternal kingdom, which is just around the next bend in the road.

July 4th: 4 Considerations for the Church

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, here are four thoughts that we would do well to consider as believers in the United States.

  1. Remember: When we come to July 4th, we remember. We remember our history as a nation; we remember sacrifices given over time; we remember who we are as Americans. The concept of remembering is important. It is important to remember good things, so that we might not take them for granted. It is also important to remember things that are not good, that we might work toward change on them. As an increasingly rootless society with little to no sense of our past, we need to move into the future and face the present in light of our past. Memory is important for us as people. July 4th gives us a time to stand in the living memory of our nation. It is a practice that should be normal for those of us who consider ourselves Christians. As Christians we are called to run the race of life within that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the saints past, present, and future who have gone before us. We need to remember who we are.
  2. We Are Citizen Exiles: As we live on earth, we are legally citizens of specific nations and states. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the many benefits I enjoy as a citizen of this country, while also recognizing the shortcomings of our country. I work for change where it is needed, and I also savor what is good. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Even though we are legally citizens of certain countries on earth, we will never truly belong here. Because the great confession of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), we also remember, as Paul writes elsewhere, that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  So, as we mark this holiday with fellow citizens of the United States, we do well to also remember to live in the tension as citizens of heaven whose primary allegiance is to King Jesus and ultimate home is in the presence of God.
  3. Seek the Common Good: When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites in Babylon, he gave these instructions: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Although we are citizen-exiles, we exist here for God’s glory by seeking the common good of the city and nation in which we live. We do not belong here, but we must steward our lives here to the glory of God and the benefit of those around us. Our nation, the United States of America, is the place where God has ‘exiled’ those of us who are citizens of it. We honor God when we seek the common good of this place. The common good is developed by recognizing the benefits and shortcomings of this nation, and seeking to bring them to all equitably. We fail to honor God when we seek only our own benefit and not the benefit of releasing the resources God has given us into the community around us.
  4. Celebrate True Freedom: As we mark the freedom we enjoy as a self-governing democracy in this nation, we must simultaneously not lose sight of the fact that political freedoms—even freedom of religion—cannot compare to the true freedom that we experience as followers of Christ. Paul writes to the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul is speaking to that early gathering of believers about the essential spiritual freedom we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many of the early disciples and contemporaries of Jesus expected Him to institute a new earthly kingdom, He instead started a revolutionary movement of living free with God in the fully available Kingdom of God. Any celebration of freedom within our nation is small compared to the boisterous celebration of freedom available in Jesus Christ for now and unto eternity.

Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a new sermon series entitled “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.”

What does it mean to live our faith out in the midst of a foreign land? How do we image what it means to be followers of God when the imagination of our culture is bent? Daniel models a life of faith as an exile in Babylon. He does this in large part through an imagination set ablaze by the Holy Spirit, enabling him to see himself and the world in light of God’s kingdom. He lives with faith under pressure, standing up to the culture without compromise, while also rising to a position of influence within society. He was a man of prayer and faith who heard from God. He was used by God powerfully within his generation for the good of others. How might we become people like Daniel in our own day and culture?

Join us at Eastbrook each weekend, or follow-along online here.

A Prayer of Ascents

Here is the prayer that I concluded my message with this past weekend at Eastbrook. I wrote this prayer as a way to reflect and weave together themes we have experienced throughout this series, Ascend.

Eternal God,
guide us who live as exiles and strangers
upon the time-bound paths of earth;
in our trials and tribulations give us grace,
and in our overflowing joys receive praise.

Grant us faith that, walking day by day with You,
we may seek an eternal country
more than we seek the goods
of these our earthly countries.

Strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees
that we might not grow discouraged along the journey,
but might run the race set out for us
with the goal of winning the prize in the upward call in Christ Jesus.

May we run together as one –
people of every tribe, tongue, and nation –
showing Your glory to a watching world
by the way in which we love one another in grace and truth.

We pray for Your grace and strength in our journey
until the day when we round the last hill’s rise
and gaze into the Eternal City
where we will see You face to face
in the new heaven and new earth,
where all manner of things will be made new.

Until that day, we say: come Lord Jesus.
Amen.