I grew up in New Mexico. Like every kid at that time in the Southwest, I saw plenty of cowboy movies and television shows like The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Maverick. Almost invariably in these shows there would be at least one scene where men gathered at the local saloon to play poker. Often such play would lead to the required barroom brawl or gunfight over someone who was cheating.
Sometimes it would be because someone would "be forced to "bet the ranch," thus putting all his assets and livelihood on the table. Often he would end up being swindled and mayhem would ensue.
The term "bet the ranch" came from Southwestern ranching culture. When someone said he was willing to "bet the ranch" he was saying he was putting in all his chips, betting he had the winning hand. Conversely, he was taking a huge risk which could turn out very badly resulting in losing everything. He was giving it all in hopes of winning big.
I think for church planters, betting the ranch on the Kingdom is the reason we leave hearth and kin. The motive is not for personal gain in a gamble however. A church planter is convinced the Kingdom is a treasure of inestimable value (Matthew 13:44-5). Every jot and tittle needs to be offered in time, energy, talent and resources to give this Kingdom/Treasure to others so they might taste, see it's good, and replicate the planters example in their own bailiwicks.
Church planters also know there's substantial risk involved, including the loss of life. Success isn't guaranteed and planters may never see the fruits of their labors in this lifetime. Giving everything includes the possibility of losing everything. No matter, the stakes in Creation are high. Jesus says to go and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:18-20) It's not a suggestion among equally interesting options. True life holds in the balance.
For church planters the Kingdom embodies certain values which inspire and motivate them to bet the ranch:
1. The Kingdom incarnates the Gospel, the best news in the universe. Liberation has come and is coming. True freedom is on the way. Grace undermines and heals the human "sickness unto death." The sick are healed, the blind see, the lost are found, the voiceless discover their voice, and the weak are made strong. Humility wins! The Gospel-infused Kingdom begins to set to right every wrong under the sun from all time: erased, reconciled, forgotten and forgiven.
2. The Kingdom manifests the astounding love of the Trinity. Love is the limitless fountain from which all can drink and draw others to, especially people who have never tasted its sweetness. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in love and open all of us to it through the Kingdom. Heaven and earth are wed and will be joined for eternity in love and joy. Trinitarian love models for us Kingdom loving one another.
3. The Kingdom elevates human dignity and value to its redemptive zenith. Everyone matters: male-female, young-old, rich-poor, weak-powerful, extraordinary-average. Everyone has a place and something necessary to offer. Interestingly, the little, marginalized, abused, and neglected have a special place of honor in this Kingdom. They are no longer shadow people easily ignored.
4. The Kingdom invites everyone to real relationship. The family of God transcends race, country, and family of origin. It's now possible for people who have very different life experiences and cultures to engage each other around a common inheritance. All are welcome at the table.
5. The Kingdom opens us see beyond our current struggles and sufferings. Life on earth is not the end of the story. We are not trapped in a tragic cycle of birth and death, or chained to the cynical maxim: Life sucks and then you die. The Kingdom lifts our heads to the a horizon of light, the Dawn of dawns. Hope is possible because a better day will wipe away all pain and sorrow. And in the Kingdom now, we are summoned to share in sorrows and hardships until the new Day arrives.
6. The Kingdom and its redemptive values motivate wells being dug in arid lands, orphans becoming family members, urban gardens being built in blighted neighborhoods, sex slaves rescued, alcoholics and addicts recovering, literacy being achieved, micro-businesses being created, street people being fed, and on and on. The values of the Kingdom: faith, hope and charity live in the here and now, not just in the bye and bye.
7. The Kingdom is God's resounding yes to all the no's which oppress and destroy people.
Wisdom aka knowledge of what actually is, says betting the ranch on the Kingdom is cashing in all your chips on what Leanne Payne called the unseen Real which vivifies and gives substance/meaning to all of life. Doing so is never a fool's errand. Rather it's the smartest investment a person will ever make, bar none.
So, are you holding onto your chips in case it's all a sham? Is your relationship to the Kingdom hesitation and holding back, keeping the back door open in case you need to make a run for it? If so, you are missing out on life to the full where love resides and hope keeps it all real.
Think about it. You may not see this yet, but you really have nothing to lose and there is more to gain than you can possibly even dream of.
Bet the ranch on the Kingdom today and go make a difference because you did.