Not far from my house is a quaint little place called Heritage Park. It has a nice island surrounded by a pond swimming with ducks and turtles, an outdoor amphitheater for community concerts, and a large recently refurbished playground with all the best equipment. The highlight of Heritage Park, however, is that on the island is a remake of Boston from the time of Paul Revere. In fact, Paul’s statue looks down over the entrance to the covered bridge that magically transports you to a docked ship ready to have tea tossed overboard, a very abbreviated version of the Freedom Trail, and a small version of the Old North Church which welcomes children to play on a giant slide that takes up the interior of the church. Heritage Park has some things in common with Boston, but it isn’t Boston. Not by a long shot! It is a pseudo-Boston.
In his book On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor, Clay Werner writes about the Kingdom of God, and about the pseudo-kingdoms we often design and try to build as pastors. While Werner writes for pastors – especially pastors who are burned out – this concept of kingdom-design and kingdom-building is relevant to us all. Read through these paragraphs and, if necessary, try to mentally rework the examples in the second paragraph according to your own place in life:
Because of hidden idolatries and motivations in our heart, we tend to design our kingdom around our heart’s desires. So sin defines the “perfect world” on its own terms. A perfect world is where I have my desires fulfilled – now. For the Zealots in Jesus’ day, the perfect world was one without Roman rule. They wanted to hear, “The kingdom of God is like a warrior who kills all the Romans – now.” So they refused to hear Jesus talk about farmers and seeds. I’m confident that most church leaders have a fairly godly design for the kingdom, because we desire that other people follow Christ and grow in Christ. Yet we often want to press fast-forward on our ministry remote and make people mature faster and our churches grow quicker because we so desperately want these things now.
So what is the kingdom of God like for us? Perhaps we might say, “The kingdom of God is like a church planter zealously evangelizing the lost, tirelessly training the found, and passionately growing a megachurch.” Or we might say, “The kingdom of God is like a young pastor fearlessly confronting stodgy traditionalism inside the church and hardened unbelief outside the church, becoming so successful that he’s asked to do conferences on church revitalization.” What do these examples have in common? First, there is a lot of noise. Just look at the enthusiasm, zeal, and excitement! There is also almost immediate gratification – instant impact and sizeable growth. There is frenetic activity, which makes it look like ministry is more like the 100-meter dash than the marathon that requires a steady pace. Finally, the success of the endeavor relies almost completely on the pastor or leader, who eventually becomes a celebrity.
Once we have designed our kingdom according to our desires, we tend to demand its consummation – now…. If anyone or anything gets in the way of consummating my kingdom or your kingdom, watch out. In our striving to be like God, if others don’t enter into my kingdom, they will feel my wrath – now. Perhaps we keep our outward facade of niceness, but inwardly we may be committing murder (Matt. 5:21-22). The result may be an angry outburst of rage, but more often than not, for those in leadership, it is the constant, low-grade frustration, anger, impatience, and coldness, and the constant search for greener grass somewhere else, that deaden our souls, harden our hearts, hurt our families, and threaten our ministry.
Whether it is a kingdom of being liked and accepted by critical coworkers or family members, a kingdom of getting just the right job for your interests and training, or a kingdom of children who don’t talk back and a spouse eager to tend to your needs, these kingdoms are still pseudo-kingdoms. Even if they overlap in places with certain aspects of God’s Kingdom (after all, doesn’t God desire children to obey their parents and spouses to show love and selflessness to one another?), these kingdoms only do so by accident; their focal point is us, our desires, and our comfort, not the praise and worship of the Triune God who is glorious and worthy of praise even when bad things are happening in our lives. And though these pseudo-kingdoms claim to offer protection from disappointment, distress, or discouragement, they cannot make good on their claims. They are false refuges.
Praise God that his Son, Jesus Christ, has ushered in the Kingdom, inaugurating it and taking his seat on the heavenly throne. Praise God that this kingdom isn’t afraid to crush our pseudo-kingdoms, putting them to shame and eroding them down like so many sand castles flattened by the rising tide. And though it is painful to see the work of our hands and the concoctions of our minds knocked down, what a joy that God’s Kingdom is indeed a refuge, a place of true safety, sinlessness, and joy. We are citizens of that kingdom – indeed royalty in it – because Christ has secured our redemption and we have been adopted as sons and daughters of the great king!
After describing the presentation of the Kingdom of God as it is found in the parable of Mark 4:26-34, Werner concludes with these rich words:
Although [the Kingdom’s] beginnings are almost imperceptible, its conclusion will be incomprehensible (Mark 4:32). We cannot now fully comprehend the fullness of its power, the enormity of its significance, the broadness of its impact, nor the depth of its satisfaction for all who will come near. Jesus is helping us move from deception to perception, so that we can rightly “see through” to the deeper reality of the kingdom of God. It may look weak and powerless, but it is strong and advancing; it may look foolish and incompetent, but it is wise and masterful; it may look frustrating and disappointing, but it is deeply satisfying and soul refreshing.
Come, all you who are weary, who have built pseudo-kingdoms that fail to protect and continue to disappoint, and find your confidence in the Kingdom that is at hand. Delight your soul in giving glory to the true King, and see how he provides for you in your affliction in ways that your pseudo-kingdoms don’t. How true awe-inspiring are John’s words in Rev 7:10 & 12, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! … Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)