The Ember – Within and Among

You will have noticed by now that I’ve not provided any definition for this kingdom of God that I love to write and speak about. It’s not I think it can’t be defined or talked about in meaningful ways. It’s just that to get there too quickly might be against the grain of what I believe the kingdom to be about.

“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is among you.”

The manuscripts of Luke 17:21 also allow “the kingdom of God is within you.”

If anyone says you can sign up for something and it will be slick and well-defined, require no emotional investment, and is yours for a low monthly fee, you know it is not the kingdom. If it doesn’t require you to have courage, to change, to risk, and to have the chance of being heartbroken, you can be sure it’s not the kingdom.

There is no glossy order-form in the magazine for the kingdom of God. It’s not a well-crafted ministry program. It’s not a church community with an incredible culture of serving the poor. It’s not the best school or the most rooted house church or most effective mission organization you’ve ever seen.

No, the kingdom is more subtle than that, and yet it is of a substance more real.

The house church can be in harmony with the kingdom. So can the megachurch and the mission organization and so can my wife while she’s buying groceries. They can each also be in dissonance with the kingdom.

Within.

There is something eternal inside you. Whether you believe it or not, there is an ember glowing in your chest. A spark of love that cannot be extinguished. It is the place where your mind, your will, and your emotions end, and it is where the life of God is hidden.

From that place comes your virtue. I am not talking about good acts. When I say “virtue” I mean holiness.

Not holiness based on human effort. Something more like creativity. In the moments of your life that are most meaningful, most satisfying, when you are most yourself without trying, the ember glows and sings. As if someone drew very close to a dying campfire and gently blew a breath toward its coals.

When the embers sing and we listen and give them room to glow, we might do something compassionate: rescue someone from peril or suffering. We might do something creative: write a vulnerable song or paint a fleeting moment of sunrise. We might dare to ask forgiveness or to forgive an offense. We might dream a better destiny for ourselves or the people we love. This is not an exhaustive list, and more often we may do something as simple as the dishes, but with a better heart. As Mother Teresa has said, “we can do no great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”

Those beautiful acts come from the divine inside us-the kingdom within. It may express itself in various ways. One thing is sure, though. When the ember within glows, we experience harmony with the order God intends for us. We experience the pleasure of knowing God in his rule and reign. We know the kingdom.

Among.

What would happen if we realized, really realized, that there is a holy flame burning inside each person we meet?

Because there is.

Of course, it can be difficult to see. The world is broken and its brokenness is always assailing us. Worse, it’s a world at war and there is an enemy who’s always trying to get us in the crosshairs, and the enemy doesn’t hesitate when given an opportunity.

Having been hurt before, it’s hard for us to reveal the part of us where the ember lives.

But when you create a safe place for me to tell you my dreams, the kingdom is among us. When I ask for your perspective on my journey and tell you how important you are to me, the kingdom is among us. When you speak with respect to the woman who has only been used, the kingdom is among you. When we ask to hear from the old man about the things he has suffered and the joys he has known, the kingdom is among us. When I get on my knees and ask questions to a child who has been told he is nothing more than an annoying brat, the kingdom is among us.

There is a way to live together that stokes the fires inside one another, and gives greater space to the God who lives in us to be who he is through us. I am not just talking about human compassion and being nice to one another. When the supernatural ember of God glows bright among us, we should expect supernatural results. Jesus sent his disciples not only to proclaim the kingdom but also to show what the kingdom is like by supernaturally commanding peoples’ healing and by releasing them from the oppression of evil spiritual forces.

The ember is a picture of the kingdom as it exists within you and among us.

So, what makes your ember glow? Or perhaps the question should be, when your ember glows what desire or action follows?

What have you done or believed that has hindered the glow of your ember?

How can you better respect, and even stoke, the ember in the people you love?

March 26, 2011