Leslie/Todd: It's kind of embarrassing to admit, but sometimes we can be so dull! This seems to be particularly true when it comes to understanding truth from the Scriptures. Our cultural bias and worldview significantly impacts and limits what we pick up on as key themes or what we dismiss as"surely that can't be!".
That has been the case with us when it comes to "the kingdom". We certainly were familiar with the term, especially as it is used in the Gospels, but we often relegated it to heaven. It was just something to come, and if we "believed" in Jesus (where that belief was never associated with works, because we held firmly that salvation is not by works), then someday we could extend our lives from earth to heaven. Given our conviction, we hoped others would see the light as well and be saved.
As we have re-read the Gospels, we're convinced that is really shortchanging what Jesus meant by the kingdom. Jesus Himself prayed "your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven". I would go so far to suggest that was Jesus' Vision Statement. Jesus talked about the kingdom being near, within, among, and to come. So, Jesus seemed to be much more concerned with extending the kingdom of heaven to earth than just extending my life and a few others from earth to heaven. Certainly extending the kingdom of heaven to earth starts with understanding who the King of the Kingdom is - it's Jesus Himself. And as Jesus stated to Nicodemus in John 3, we need to be born anew or born again to see and enter the kingdom. But we need to go much further than that if we are to experience the kingdom and extend it to others.
Imagine just how great the kingdom of heaven must be, and then imagine this King has entrusted you and me to join the Holy Spirit in the work of extending His kingdom to earth. That's a HUGE calling! It requires you and me to wake up every day and ask "what can we do to extend the kingdom from heaven to earth today?". It's such a huge calling that I can now better understand why Jesus instructed us to go make disciples - not just believers. You see, it's far too tempting for believers to be so focused on just getting to heaven that they really aren't too concerned on how they live their lives up to that time. Meanwhile, disciples, at least the kind Jesus said He wanted, would appreciate that they have to give up everything, deny themselves, and take up their crosses daily to usher in this kind of kingdom. They understand Jesus' teachings warning about how greed and money in particular could pose some of the greatest threats to experiencing the kingdom (Jesus said it will be very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom) and extending that kingdom to others. They would appreciate how huge the task is, how short their lives are likely to be, and how critical it would be to put their hands to the plow to make way for the kingdom of heaven on earth. They would be a people set apart, a people who realize their real citizenship is in heaven and they are here as ambassadors. They would also appreciate how focusing one's life on such may someday lead to hearing "well done" from the King of this kingdom.
Who, in addition to the Holy Spirit, has God used to open our eyes to the Scripture's teaching on the kingdom? The staff, board, and clients of our microfinance partners from around the world. Inspired by an excellent ad campaign from the Philippines Tourism Board entitled "It's More Fun in the Philippines" (click here for their < 3 minute video, but be forewarned that you will want to hop on the next plane to Manila!), we have adopted a 2013 theme in PEER Servants of "It's More Fun in the Kingdom. Experience It. Extend It." You'll be hearing more about it in the months to come.
Imagine YOU can experience the kingdom of heaven on earth. Something tells me once you experience something like that, you will be most eager to extend it to others. As Jesus prayed, may it be so.
A final note since it has been 6+ months since our last entry - the latter half of 2012 was fantastic! We were with teams in Moldova, Zambia, and the Philippines. We are witnessing transformation in the lives of thousands of the materially poor and dozens of our volunteers. We remain in awe of the place God has put us to get to see His Kingdom being extended to earth.