God calls us to go into the world and change it by proclaiming the good news of His kingdom.
By Richard Stearns
I’ll never forget our family’s first visit to Walt Disney World. My wife, Reneé, and I waited until all five of our kids were out of diapers before booking the vacation. Our youngest had turned 3, and our oldest was 16. So we bought our tickets and reserved the hotel rooms. I even picked up guidebooks on how to avoid long lines.
Our first night in Orlando, Fla., we planned to visit the “Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue,” but on the way, our 6-year-old son, Pete, was hurt. As we walked to the venue, Pete saw a playground, ran to it, tripped, and hit his face on the first step. When we reached him, we saw that his lip was cut open. Reneé rushed him to the hospital, where Pete got to meet Indiana Jones, who’d injured himself during the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” show. While Reneé was in the emergency room with Pete, I took the rest of the kids to the dinner show. It was a terrible way to begin our long-awaited vacation to the Magic Kingdom.
Everything turned out all right, and after that first night, our only obstacles were long lines inside the park. Our family enjoyed the visit and discovered why Walt Disney World is known for being one of the happiest places on earth. But in many ways, we live in the Magic Kingdom every day, at least compared to billions of people throughout the world.
The Magic Kingdom
Any wealthy Western country can easily produce what I call “Magic Kingdom Christians.” Those are Christians who’ve been sheltered and shaped by their affluent culture. They tend to see the world as a gigantic theme park. It’s a world filled with all kinds of rides, attractions, and destinations to enjoy. They live in comfortable houses or apartments and own one or more cars. They have 200 channels of cable TV. They enjoy going to movies and out to dinner. They live in a reasonably safe, predictable, and orderly world in which their government oversees the national interests; laws are generally respected and enforced; schools are provided for all children; and the basic necessities of food, water, and medical services are generally available. With those things provided, they can channel their energies enthusiastically toward “the pursuit of happiness.”
In the Magic Kingdom, people struggle with first-world problems: where to go for dinner, how to best decorate their homes, where to invest their excess money, what kind of car they’ll drive, where to go on their vacations, which diet and workout regimen is most effective, and how much money to leave to their children. It’s pleasant there. In fact, it’s one of the happiest places on earth.
Yes, life in the Magic Kingdom can be a pretty sweet ride. The great thing about living there is that it’s open to everyone — as long as you were born in the right country and can afford the price of admission. Living in this carefree society profoundly shapes your worldview. It affects the way you look at every dimension of your life: your values, your expectations, your priorities, your money, your politics, and yes, even the way you see your Christian faith.
Jesus was clear. He didn’t commission us to return to our old lives as if nothing had happened.
The Tragic Kingdom
Outside the borders of the Magic Kingdom there’s another reality. In the Tragic Kingdom, millions of people go to bed hungry each night. In fact, about 1 billion people today are chronically short of food. Many of them are slowly starving to death. That’s three times the population of the U.S. More than one in four of the world’s 2 billion children are underweight or stunted. Today there are severe food shortages in Somalia, Niger, Mali, North Korea, and Sudan, to name a few.
Lack of clean water may be an even worse problem for Tragic Kingdom citizens, as almost a billion have no access. They walk miles each day to dip their buckets into bacteria-ridden water that sickens them and kills their children.
Let’s add to our list of woes the violence and tension in the Middle East, nuclear tensions with Iran and North Korea, the ongoing conflict in Darfur, and the 20-year war in the Congo. During these last 20 years, tens of thousands of women have been brutally raped; it’s a war that’s taken 5 million lives, but most Americans have never heard of it.
In the Tragic Kingdom, people struggle with the consequences of ethnic and religious hatreds and violence; the blight of human trafficking; pandemic diseases like AIDS, cholera, and tuberculosis; the serious effects of climate change; and the staggering problems faced by the world’s 18 million orphaned children.
Are you feeling the heaviness yet? I’m not done. To fully appreciate the sheer dimensions of the suffering in our world, you must understand how broadly the pain extends. More than one third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and more than three quarters live on less than $10 a day! That bears repeating: 75 percent of the people on our planet survive on less than $10 a day. The Tragic Kingdom is much, much larger than the Magic Kingdom.
And, finally, the most terrible statistic of all: 19,000 children under the age of 5 die every day of preventable causes, simply because they’re poor. That’s almost 8 million children every year — one every four seconds. This is something God sees every moment of every day. Do you see it?
Most Magic Kingdom Christians don’t know much about the Tragic Kingdom; in fact, they go out of their way to avoid it. That’s because it’s terribly unpleasant, and even acknowledging it takes them out of their comfort zones. Back in the days when Haiti was a resort destination, vacationers were picked up at the airport by their resort’s shuttle bus. The bus windows were blacked out to prevent people from looking out. It was too disturbing for the guests to see the awful poverty en route to the beach resorts. Most of us who live in the Magic Kingdom have blacked out our windows, too.
The central mission of Jesus’ incarnation was to launch God’s kingdom on earth.
The Kingdom of God
There’s a third way. God’s way. God’s worldview. His kingdom. The world doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, God doesn’t want the world to be this way. There’s a different way of living, a different vision of human thriving. Jesus called it the kingdom of God.
In the gospel accounts, Jesus spoke without ceasing about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. It’s mentioned more than 125 times in the New Testament, and most of the mentions are by Jesus Himself. If you picked up your Bible and read only the four Gospels, looking only for references to the kingdom, you’d come to a surprising conclusion: The central mission of Jesus’ incarnation was to launch God’s kingdom on earth.
Just how central was the idea of the kingdom to Jesus’ thinking? In Luke 4, after Jesus had performed several miracles, the people of Capernaum tried to get Him to stay with them, but Jesus rebuked them, saying, “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). Did you catch that? Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God.
Before Jesus left, He commissioned His followers to take this good news of the kingdom of God to the whole world and to make it a reality. He essentially said, “Go, do what I’ve told you to do, teach what I’ve taught you to teach, act as I’ve taught you to act, and love as I’ve shown you to love. Build My kingdom in all the nations. This is what you were made to do” (Matthew 28, author’s paraphrase).
Jesus was clear. He didn’t commission us to return to our old lives as if nothing had happened. And He didn’t commission us to simply go to church on Sundays and sing songs. He called us to go into the world and change it by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, modeling a different vision of community, and inviting others to join it. It was nothing less than a calling to partner with God in establishing a new world order. That was the mission.
Two thousand years later, we now hold the baton. Christ didn’t call us to retreat from the world’s pain but to enter it. He called us to go. The 21st Century church has everything required to finish the job — the resources, the knowledge, and the mandate. But the great mission given to us by Christ lies unfinished. •
Excerpt adapted from Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning by Richard Stearns. Copyright © 2013, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tenn. Used by permission.
Richard Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and author of Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning (May 2013). Follow him on Twitter @RichStearns.
This article originally appeared in the July, 2013 issue of Home Life. Subscribe