We fought our way through the aspens after a steep climb through pines. We were a trio of boys from the flat land and scrubby mesquites of west Texas, on a family vacation in New Mexico. We weren't well acquainted with mountains or trees. The "hill" behind the cabin where we stayed was inviting. We had told my mom that we would be back for a late lunch. It was now about that time, but we wanted to see the top of what we now realized was a mountain.

We had found an old settler's log cabin falling to pieces on a small, cleared flat area before we hit the aspens. We got a glimpse or two of the surrounding mountains in southern Colorado and they looked beautiful. Then the aspens thinned into rockslides and packed soil, as we neared the top of our mountain. We could see for miles. Incredible beauty surrounded us in every direction. We were on one of the top peaks in northern New Mexico. We had no idea of the beauty that surrounded us when we had been at the base of the mountain at the cabin where were staying.

The hike had been hard and the climb exhausting. We knew that we were going to be very, very late getting back to where we were staying. Mom would be upset. Dad would laugh and say something about boys being boys. We would be starving and thirsty. We knew we would feel like we had been on an adventure.

Except for my tumbling down one of the rockslides and getting a little bruised up, we were no worse for the wear. We had seen incredible beauty and had experienced an invaluable truth: we don't realize the beauty around us because our point of view is so cluttered with junk and our sightlines so blocked by familiar things.

This was the problem for most folks when Jesus came. Mark's story of Jesus says it this way:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:14-15 tniv)

"The kingdom of God has come near!" Most people missed it. Their view was cluttered with junk and their sightlines too blocked with familiar, predictable things.

Two thousand years later, we have the same problem. Ask people about church and you're likely to get someone rolling her eyes or some guy glaring at you in anger. The media has attacked the idea of church for decades. Well-publicized failures of churches and their leaders have brought shame and disgrace on the cause of Christ. Forgotten are the incredible humanitarian efforts of churches to start universities, build hospitals, lead relief efforts, provide for widows, and care for orphans. Even now, it's chic for "church" leaders to dishonor and disrespect even the idea of church.

Our junk clutters the view and our sightlines are blocked by familiar and disregarded things. It's time for us to climb to the top of the mountain and get a glimpse of the surrounding beauty. Yet for this to happen, we need a C2K transformation. We need to move from the concept of church to kingdom.

Jesus spoke a kingdom message. He proclaimed the power of God's kingdom. He demonstrated the kingdom's redemptive might. He told people to change their hearts for the kingdom of God. He emphasized that they had to change their ways to be a part of the kingdom. He taught people to pray for God's kingdom to come and for God's will to be done — on earth.

When we read the four stories of Jesus' life and the history of the early church, Jesus almost always used the term "kingdom," not "church." The term "church" is used only 23 times — nearly all of them in Acts — while the term "kingdom" is used 129 times in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts!

So let's go on a trip up the mountain to try to get a bit more of a kingdom viewpoint over the next few weeks. Let's read through the four stories of Jesus — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This will help us hear the voice of Jesus. Let's invite the Holy Spirit to help us see the beauty that we are called to experience. As we make this journey, we will be challenged, we'll love God's people more, and we will leave some of the clutter and junk behind and see the beauty that God intends for us to experience in the kingdom of God!

The following questions are for your own introspection and thought or to use with your small group or house church. I'd love to get your feedback on my blog:

What do I need to do to live for the kingdom of God?

Why do you think we've chosen in modern times to use the word "church" to refer to a building when it never does in the Bible?

In what ways has the term "church" become a hard concept for people to understand?

What are other terms and metaphors that you remember being used to describe Jesus' "church" and which one do you like best and why?

How do we live in a world that hates the term "church" without devaluing what Jesus meant when he used the word "church" and he died for the church?

How is the concept of living for the kingdom of God different from being a member of a church?

What do you need to do to live for Jesus as one of his followers and a passionate seeker of God's kingdom?

When Jesus says to seek first the kingdom (Matthew 6:33), what do you believe he means and why?