The Already Here Kingdom Pt. 1
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”—Luke 17:20-21
Larry’s boyhood dream was to fly. He joined the Air Force, but never became a pilot, so when he became a civilian, he settled down near the Los Angeles International Airport, so he could sit in this backyard watching jets take off and land. One day Larry had an idea. He decided that it was time for him to stop being a spectator, and become a participant. Larry decided that it was time for him to fly.
Jesus talks about the kingdom of God as a reality. Jesus talks about the kingdom as something we not only watch and hope for, but a reality in which we participate and are involved. The dimensions of the kingdom of God are eternal—past, present and future. The kingdom of God has a past, it is a present reality and it will have a glorious future reality.
The kingdom of God is in our midst. The kingdom of God is in session right now. Are you and I in attendance? The kingdom of God is happening—are we just watching it as spectators, or as we involved as participants? Are we watching the kingdom fly by like Lawn-chair Larry watched those jet planes fly over his backyard?
Do you and I have the courage to accept Jesus’ invitation to start living in his kingdom RIGHT NOW?
Let’s get back to the story of Lawn-chair Larry. Larry had a bright idea as he watched airplanes fly over this house. He was tired of watching—he wanted to fly! He decided to attach 45 weather balloons to his lawn-chair (thus the name “Lawn-chair Larry”) along with several tanks of helium. You can see where this whole scheme was headed, can’t you? Larry was planning to create his own, home-made, hot air balloon, so that while he was seated in his lawn chair, he would be able to realize his boyhood dream of flying.
Larry got the 45 balloons and helium tanks ready. He packed some sandwiches and, momentarily forgetting that pilots aren’t supposed to imbibe alcoholic beverages while flying, he also packed a six-pack of beer. He also took along a pellet gun, thinking that when he was finished with his flight he could pop a few balloons at a time and then slowly descend, safely, back to earth.
Larry’s original plan was that he would probably get no higher than about 30 feet above his backyard, and after spending a few hours above ground, he would come back down. Well, things don’t always go according to plan, do they? After Larry was ready to go, he cut the cord anchoring his lawn chair to the good earth and that lawn chair took off out of his backyard like it had been shot out of a cannon.
He climbed and climbed and climbed—finally leveling off at 11,000 feet! He was too scared to shoot out any balloons because he was so high and he didn’t want to risk a sudden descent. From his lofty perch Larry hoped that the weather balloons would slowly become deflated, like helium balloons do—and meanwhile he stayed there—cold and afraid, for more than 14 hours.
That’s when Larry really got into hot water. Lawn-chair Larry didn’t know it but he had drifted into one of the approach corridors for the Los Angeles International Airport. A United pilot was the first one to spot Larry. The pilot radioed the tower and said that he had just passed a guy in a lawn chair holding a gun. Now this all happened back in 1997— four years before 9-11 and the strict security imposed on air travel. But still, even back then, it was not a good idea to be levitating in a lawn chair at 11,000 feet, armed with a gun, with passenger jets in close proximity.
Night was falling, but emergency personnel at LAX (shorthand for Los Angeles International Airport) swung into action. By the time a helicopter was dispatched and caught up with Larry, an offshore breeze was blowing Larry out over the ocean (the runways at LAX are only a few miles from the beach). The helicopter was able to hover over Larry, its crew lowered a rescue line to him, and then Larry was able to be towed back to shore.
When he came down to earth Larry was arrested for violating LAX airspace. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter asked Larry why he had done what he had done. Larry responded, “A man just can’t sit around.” You may be thinking, “Well, that’s an interesting story but what in the world does Lawn-chair Larry have to do with the kingdom of God?” Of course, Lawn-chair Larry was not wise. He had no idea about the dangers involved in his action. I am not —repeat—I am not—encouraging anyone to try a similar thing at home!
As far as I know Lawn-chair Larry was not trying to become involved in the kingdom of God—though, come to think of it, had Larry continued to go up and up and up, he might have thought he would be visiting heaven a little prematurely.
But you know—Larry did something, didn’t he? I’m not saying he is a hero—he was foolish by all accounts. But the example I wish to note is that he did something. As he was being taken to jail by the police Larry said that he did what he did because “A man just can’t sit around.”
Larry wasn’t content to simply sit and watch. Do you remember the story of a teacher who asked a little boy what his father did?
The little boy answered his teacher, “My dad watches.”
“You mean he’s a security guard—a night watchman?”
“Oh no,” said the little boy—”my dad just watches.”
“Well,” asked the teacher, “what does he watch?”
The little boy replied, “He watches TV, he watches Mom do the housework and make dinner. He watches for the paperboy and the mailman, and he watches the weather. He watches me mow the lawn and rake leaves, he watches football and basketball and baseball games on TV and he watches Mom spank us kids. Mainly, he just watches.”
Many within Christendom might be actively attending their churches, but in terms of the kingdom of God their primary involvement is based on sitting around trying to figure out when Jesus will return. Many are caught up in endless predictions as to the precise date and time of the Second Coming. In their attempts to interpret somewhat obscure biblical prophesies and apply them to the times in which we live, and thereby have a better idea than anyone else as to when Jesus will come and inaugurate his kingdom, many are seemingly oblivious of the fact that Jesus has already come. The kingdom is here!
Attention K-Mart shoppers! The Kingdom of God is now in session! Jesus said, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed…” (Luke 17:20). We do not gain or join or enter the kingdom of God as a result of careful observations or calculations. More than that, while such calculations and planning are taking place, ironically, the kingdom of God is already in session!
The Kingdom of God is in session. Are you in attendance? Are you involved?
Our spiritual transformation is not a process where we sit and watch. God does not force us to grow. We must consent to our growth. We consent initially, when we are spiritually re-born. We consent on a daily basis, as we yield to our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Lord of our lives. As we consent to him we grow, and with growth comes growing pains. God mercifully and carefully and gradually changes us. He challenges us. He works with us, teaching us and slowly and inexorably making us his very own handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). Our spiritual transformation doesn’t just involve one decision once in our lives, but we are transformed day by day, as we continuously invite the Master to increasingly change and transform us.
And all of this spiritual growth takes place within the freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1) we are given by God’s grace. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of freedom—no one is held in the kingdom of God against their will.
Consider what many animals are subjected to by their owners as they experience a transformation of growth. Selective breeding, genetic alterations and mutations are common in chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle as they are prepared for market. In what has come to be generically known as factory farming, animals endure manure-laden environments where bacteria multiplies, as they are fattened in feed lots, overcrowded pens and tiny metal crates—all of this leading to man-made diseases and illnesses which eventually affect human consumers.
This abuse of animals because of human greed has led to the term “free range”—to suggest conditions far closer to the God-given freedom that an animal experiences. Just as animals are subjected to artificial environments, for the purpose of their growth within the kingdoms of agribusiness, similar things can happen to you and me within the kingdom of religion.
The kingdom of God is a free-range kingdom. But the kingdom of religion often resembles a feedlot where captive followers are fattened as they are fed spiritual manure, among other things. Inmates in the kingdom of religion are cooped up—they are kept in confined, close quarters. Many who are told they are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18) are actually confined in a filthy spiritual cage.
Darkened spiritual environments are places filled with spiritual bacteria, where inhabitants are up to their necks in swill. Such toxic environments produce retarded growth and deformities as well as emotional fears and frustrations. Just like animals that experience such conditions on factory farms, controlled in every way, people who are being fattened up on religious factory farms are manipulated and abused. People are told the conditions they experience are part of being prepared for heaven—Christ-less religion causes people to believe that the oppression and abuse they are enduring is God’s will for their lives. Such brutal spiritual factories may call themselves the kingdom of heaven, but I assure you they are simply part of the kingdom of religion!
Jesus rescues us and gives us freedom from religion. When we are spiritually reborn and inherit the kingdom, we are placed in a free-range spiritual environment. God does not force-feed us. He doesn’t fatten us up. We are active participants in the manner and degree of our spiritual growth. And, of course, spiritual growth can hurt—it can be painful. But is not imposed on us against our will. In such a positive and Christ-centered environment of spiritual growth, we do not simply observe, but we participate in the kingdom of God.
Jesus said that the kingdom does not come by observation. We don’t simply watch it happen. Jesus transforms our lives, he lives his life in us, but he doesn’t force us. He leads us, he helps us, he guides us—but we are given choices as to the obstacles that face us, the challenges that come before us.
God’s grace is not about sitting around and watching. God’s grace involves us in the full life of Christ. Of course, what we do does not earn us commendation or reward or merit from God that entitles us to salvation. What we do is what he transforms us into—what we do is what happens when we yield to the Master Potter, as he places us, the clay, on his wheel, and transforms us from a ball of clay into the vessel he wishes for us to become.
Being transformed of God in his kingdom is both:
1) An act in time. Spiritual rebirth happens at a point in time. You are either born from above, of God, or you are not.
2) Being transformed of God is also a growth process that begins with our spiritual rebirth. It is an ongoing process.
Inheriting and living in the kingdom of God means that God is transforming us from what we were to what he wants us to be. Being in the Kingdom of God means that God is spiritually recreating us into his handiwork. It means that we come to know God more intimately, day by day—as we see him more clearly, follow him more nearly and love him more dearly.
The kingdom of God is in session—are you in attendance? The kingdom of God is in session—don’t just sit there in your lawn chair watching it go by.