Earlier this month, I had the unique privilege to travel to Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2015 Nazarene Youth Conference. Along with four students from my youth group, we joined with nearly 7000 other Nazarene teens and adult sponsors for a denominational gathering that only happens once every four years.
The theme for NYC2015 was “Thy Kingdom Come.” Every morning and every evening at NYC, we recited the Lord’s Prayer along with a few thousand of our Nazarene brothers and sisters in Christ. We began and ended each day by praying the words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In keeping with this theme, during NYC2015 we learned all about the Kingdom of God. In my favorite service of the week, Rev. Gabriel Salguero and his wife Jeanette -- co-lead pastors of the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City -- preached on the Kingdom of God. In this message, they reminded us that in the Kingdom, there is no room for hatred. In the Kingdom, there is no place for things like racism, sexism, or oppression. Instead, in the Kingdom of God, chains are broken and injustices are made right. In the Kingdom of God, we do not need to fear or curse the darkness, because if we are living Kingdom-lives, we are turning the on the lights in the dark places of the world. In the Kingdom of God, love always wins. Love always beats out fear, hatred, darkness, and oppression.
Throughout the week at NYC, we caught many glimpses of the Kingdom of God here on earth. We witnessed heaven breaking into our lives through the services, the worship songs, the messages, the concerts, the work projects, and the conversations we had throughout the week. We saw the Kingdom happening when 7000 teens and their adult sponsors gathered in the city of Louisville for the sole purposes of loving God and loving others.
The Kingdom has to first start in our own hearts and in our own homes before it can move out into the world. After we have embraced God’s Kingdom and rule in our lives, we can then go out and be His hands and feet as we partner with God in ending oppression, feeding the poor, healing the sick, and caring for the lost, broken, and hurting.
On the last day of NYC, we were told to “Go.” We were reminded to look out into our world and see those people that need to be brought into the Kingdom too. We are to reach out, call them by name, and invite them to the Table—just as Jesus did for the tax collector Zacchaeus. We are to be about the business of making the Kingdom of God a reality in our lives right now.
But we must remember that the Kingdom of God often starts out in small, simple, and unnoticeable ways. As Jesus himself said,
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46)
The Kingdom of God doesn’t always come through huge acts and big things. It doesn’t always happen at youth conventions with 7000 other people. It happens in small conversations, daily interactions, and random acts of kindness. It happens in how we treat people in our school, in how we talk to the waiter at the restaurant or the cashier at Wal-mart, in how we care for our own family members. The Kingdom of God comes when we choose to make small sacrifices for the sake of others. The Kingdom of God comes when we intentionally live out our lives for Christ every single day.
Eventually -- just like a tiny mustard seed grows into a large bush or a tiny bit of yeast permeates the whole batch of dough -- these small acts and little interactions add up into something great and beautiful! They grow and multiply. They draw people in, and when others see us living out our Kingdom-lives, they will say, “I want to be a part of that. Show me how.”
At NYC2015, I learned some amazing things about the Kingdom of God. I left Louisville filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and renewed with a vision of hope and a beautiful picture of what could be.
But here’s the thing: There are many people that say this this beautiful vision of hope is all just a dream, an impossibility. It could never become a reality. In fact, there are even many Christians that say the Kingdom of God could never really come on earth. Society is just too messed up, people are just too broken, and things could never possibly be fixed or put back in order. They will tell you that the Kingdom of God is something for the future, something we can look forward to when we die and go to heaven. The Kingdom will never come about in our lifetimes.
The Kingdom of God has already broken into our world! It first came through Christ when he was born into this world as a little baby. It came when he healed the sick, caused the lame to walk and the blind to see and the deaf to hear. It came when he reached out to the outcasts of society: the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the lepers, the women. It came when he provided enough food for everyone to eat and be full. And the Kingdom ultimately came when Jesus defeated death once and for all through His resurrection.
We currently live in this tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” The Kingdom has already come! It is already here! But it is not yet fully realized. It is not yet complete. And yes, it will never be fully perfected until Christ comes again. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying! We Christ-followers have to be a stubbornly optimistic people, fully believing that transformation is possible in our lives and in our world. Because the Kingdom isn’t something we escape to when we die and go to heaven; it is here and now! That is why we pray, “May your kingdom come on EARTH as it is in heaven!”
May we never stop praying that prayer. May we never give up hope. May we always be optimistic, idealistic dreamers with a vision of better days. May we always be pushing for justice and equality. May we always have the courage to stand up against the powers of darkness that try to infiltrate our world. May we be Kingdom-bringers and Kingdom-builders in our own communities—our workplaces, our schools, our homes. May we refuse to listen to the nay-sayers. May we seek the Kingdom first. May we find it in the many corners of our world, in those beautiful places and moments where heaven meets earth.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.