How I Experienced God

preachingWLA friend asked me to preach a sermon on “Kingdom and Church.” This sounded rather broad and abstract. I wanted to decline because I have no idea what to say! But I remembered a quote: “If you’re asked to do something good, say ‘Yes’ first (which I did), and after that figure out how.” So, now I’m trying to figure out how to preach this sermon this Sunday! Do help me out.

The word translated “kingdom” (βασιλεία – basileia) is used 162 times in the NT, while “church” (ἐκκλησία– ekklēsia) is used 115 times. Both are significant themes in the Bible. Kingdom has the meaning of a territory under the rule of a king, while “church” means an assembly, a congregation, a gathering of people. Rather than expound theologically on Kingdom and Church (boring), I’ll share how I experienced the Kingdom (God) through the Church (people).

My (mystical) conversion was my first encounter with the kingdom of God. It was unexpected, supernatural, glorious and mysterious. I met face to face with the Immortal One who lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). I still have chills and shivers whenever I recount this. My conversion happened two weeks after I began Genesis one on one Bible study with a UBF missionary in 1980.

A marriage made in heaven is God’s endless mercy and grace to me, a boy who could never speak to any woman I felt attracted to. In my mind it was a certainty that I would never marry. But through the introduction of Samuel Lee I married by faith with a woman I did not propose to! After 32 years of marital bliss (and counting), God granted me the unspeakable joy of God and his kingdom. I previously shared how God’s utmost love for mankind is expressed through a happy marriage.

Four lovely children are God’s blessed gifts of love and undeserved rewards, through whom I taste the goodness and love of the kingdom of God. They are like arrows to a warrior whose quiver is full of them (Ps 127:3-5). In addition, God has granted my wife and I three (plus one) grandchildren. My endless wealth from my children are inestimable and priceless.

A happy church community of 10 families are at West Loop UBF. Even if I do a poor job of it, I have the great privilege of preaching extemporaneously to them. Every Sunday without exception I stand in awe of God before them and others in weakness and with fear and trembling (1 Cor 2:3). We thoroughly enjoy each others’ company with endless laughter and intimate conversation. Even when we disagree and fight (mainly because of my autonomous, abrasive, combative and confrontational disposition!), God has enabled us to be true friends who stab each other in the front!

Friends who love Jesus in Philippines UBF. Through a Bible student from my fellowship in 1984, God planted a church that has been thriving to this day. They have been a fruitful and vibrant ministry in Manila that we have been able to love and support from Chicago. God has granted me the privilege of visiting them each year over the past decade. Their love for God and Scripture enabled me to share 26 sermons and Bible studies in 19 days when I was last with them in March 2014.

Even my sins of losing $1,000,000 in 2005 drew me closer to Christ. When I lost our entire life savings and much much more, I felt devastated. I brought shame, pain and grief to my dear wife and children, to myself and to my church. But at this very nadir of my life, Jer 31:3 came to my heart. I was shocked that as I loathed myself I tasted the nearness of the kingdom of God through God’s everlasting love. It is true that nothing can separate God’s children from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39). I obviously do not advocate sinning. But my sin made me more bold, confident and fearless (Prov 28:1) with deep humility and tears (Ac 20:19) and with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). Brian calls this a lamb-hearted lion.

Planting West Loop UBF church on Jan 4, 2008. In my heart and mind this is a miracle of God that I thought would never ever happen. But God, through UBF’s gracious leaders, granted their blessing and approval. Though the year long process was painstaking and gut wrenching, the result brought joy and tears of the kingdom of God to my heart. Even as I remember it today, I still taste and see that God is indeed good.

Sorry for this rambling reflection and abstract articulation about the kingdom and the church through my experience. Do share your thoughts about the Kingdom and Church and help me out. How have you experienced God and his kingdom?


  1. Joe Schafer

    Ben, it’s worthwhile to talk about how we have experienced God. But unless I missed something, you didn’t say very much about kingdom and church. Yes, expounding on theology can be dry and boring. But it can also be interesting and provocative, especially when you articulate and address the questions that are on peoples’ minds. The relationship between kingdom and church has been a source of misunderstanding and confusion for me and many of my generation. I will try to pose some of these questions when I have time.

  2. Thanks, Joe. I was afraid someone would say that! But you’re quite right. My totally disorganized and random thoughts about kingdom and church so far, which I refrained from articulating, are:

    * The kingdom arrived with the coming of Christ (Mk 1:15), who is himself the manifestation of the kingdom.
    * The prayer of God’s people should be for the kingdom to come (Mt 6:10; Lk 11:2), not for people to go to heaven.
    * The kingdom must be sought as of foremost priority by the people of God (Mt 6:33).
    * The kingdom is within people (Lk 17:2).
    * The gospel of the kingdom is what should be preached to all nations (Mt 24:14).
    * The old kingdom is passing away and the new is coming (Rev 21:1).

    * The church is built by Jesus (Mt 16:18), who is the head of the church (Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18).
    * Unresolved conflicts are to be dealt with by the church (Mt 18:17).
    * The church should be the expression and representation of the Living God, and the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

  3. Ben, I appreciate your articulation on the nexus between God’s kingdom and the church. For sure, in American culture, it’s difficult to understand the communal aspects of both, so this is a challenging concept to communicate.

    I like your route of relying heavily on the experiential aspect of it. If I could give some push-back though, I’d say that your experience sounds a bit too majestic or charmed. What I mean is that the kingdom of God has not yet been fully consummated. So we see shadows of the kingdom on this earth (your marriage, children a loving community such as WL, etc.) and conversely the kingdom spilling or breaking into our reality (your heavenly conversion, deeper revelation of biblical truths).

    But I would say that overall, our earthly experience of the kingdom is bitter-sweet; the already but not yet concept. God’s kingdom is coming into our reality but we still live in a fallen world. Our spouses and children are truly an undeserved gift of mercy from the Lord, but at the same time we are all flawed and thus cause each other angst. The same goes for relationships within the church community and so forth. We battle with indwelling sin and this taints our experience of the kingdom; we are not as proficient, skilled, empathetic, etc. as we would like to be. Generally speaking, we are often times vexed in this life, but we have hope in God’s final promise.

    You could unpack this concept in many ways. For instance,
    * how does the reality of the kingdom augment my outlook on my marriage or congregational relationships when things get rough or when they go well?
    * Does a robust theology of the kingdom solve our interpersonal problems or prevent us from idolizing our blessings and if so how?

    A sermon on this topic that would resound with me is one that meets me in the reality of this tumultuous, yet joyful already but not yet state of being. Perhaps Christ is the best example of one who lived with both unspeakable angst and joy while on earth.

  4. bekamartin

    Ben, thank you for these thoughts. I feel this one was your best one yet. I, too, experienced God’s love and grace more powerfully, his presence more fully, when I sinned against him and my husband of almost 19 years when I looked inappropriately on a member of our church and thought I was in love with him. (he didn’t feel the same way for me) I prayed desparately to God to change my heart and mind, while continuing to dwell on my thoughts and feelings. When I finally did repent (turn away from) my sin and turn to God and my husband, I received God’s rescue. But the entire time I was in this, I knew God’s love and grace and felt his presence even so. God is so gracious to lead us back to himself from our sin.

  5. This is probably way past your sermon now, but I wonder if I can add some fuel to the proverbial fire.

    *Do I sense a tendency to, when challenged with a very difficult topic to speak about, share one’s testimony as a roundabout way of introducing the topic?
    *I wonder at the present-future reality of God’s kingdom. Definitely, we see the fact that the kingdom is real in our lives, in our submission to its coming.
    *The imminent arrival of the fullness of His Kingdom gives nobility and a foundation to the church, no?
    *The “near-ness” of the kingdom reveals itself in blessing, repentance and community?
    *Perhaps some settle on the idea of Church-as-Kingdom and this is a theme that we need to understand more in our time?

    Just some thoughts