King of Somewhere

“I’m the king of the world,” Leonardo DiCaprio famously crows from the bow of the Titanic in the movie of that name. The irony of that statement for anyone who can see beyond the incredibly contrived romantic plotline of the movie is profound.

This pops into my head as we continue to explore Matthew 6:33. We’ve already determined that in order to claim the promise of that verse we must seek something ahead of everything else, but what are we to seek?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

The kingdom of God? That’s slightly more difficult to grasp.

If you had been bopping around England in about 1525 and stopped by Hampton Court, the home of King Henry VIII, he might have offhandedly dropped, as you two were swapping stories around the barbeque grill, that he was the king of England and France. You, as a guest, would politely smile and nod, quickly turning the subject to what sort of grouse he had on the charcoal.

You see, when English kings in the Renaissance era claimed to hold England and France, what they really meant was that they actually held England and wished they held France. The only portion of France that Henry VIII actually controlled was the port and immediate environs of Calais. It would be like setting up control of Corpus Christi and claiming to be the ruler of all Texas.

In human terms, a kingdom, in any meaningful sense, is a place where the king actually exercises some measure of control. Henry the VIII could claim to be the king of France, but if he couldn’t collect taxes, enforce laws, conscript soldiers, or otherwise act kingly, then he wasn’t really the king of France. There’s a guy right now, Louis Alphonse, who is considered the rightful king of France. While he dresses well and plays polo, I don’t see the French Republic asking him to move in to Versailles.

A kingdom, I would argue, is not where somebody, Henry VIII or Louis Alphonse or somebody else, says they’re in charge. It is a place where they actually exercise at least reasonable control.

If we accept that last claim, then the kingdom that Matthew 6:33 calls us to seek is a place where God actually rules. If somebody else rules there–like Francis I, the actual King of France in 1525, when Henry VIII claimed to be the guy–then it really isn’t their kingdom at all.

Does that move us closer to understanding the kingdom of God in Matthew 6:33? Perhaps we get a clue from Revelation 11:15:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.

As I read that–and I’d be remiss not to point out that it echoes the Lord’s prayer talking about God’s kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven”–it’s almost as if Jesus is admitting that there are two kingdoms, but that the kingdom of God is eventually going to overtake the kingdom of this world, sort of like Henry VIII, in his back porch dreams, probably dreamed of restoring actual control of France.

Does this help? Perhaps a little, but we’ll need to revisit this question.

Hi, My Name is Mark and I’m a Blog Abandoner

Thanks be to God, I’m not an alcoholic or any other sort of addict that would lead me to a twelve-step program. I certainly don’t want to mock their patterns of speech or diminish their challenge, but in some ways, my behavior in maintaining this blog is like the addict with good intentions, the person who desires to remain on the path of constancy but all of a sudden looks up to find himself off the wagon and with a week’s worth of unwritten days.

As I consider my on-again-off again blogging fidelity, as I look at all those non-highlighted days on the WordPress calendar, I’m reminded of the letter to the church at Ephesus from Revelation 2.

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary.  But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Jesus knew that this church had done some good things, that they had many positive qualities, but he also knew that the passion had faded away. This group of believers was not in danger of losing their salvation and being cast aside with the goats, but their lampstand was threatened. If they didn’t get back on track, Jesus promised in the next verse (Revelation 2:5), their position in his work would be taken away, perhaps relocated.

The church in which I grew up is defunct. It had been a growing, thriving place over several decades, but a couple of years back, whatever remnant of the congregation that still rattled around in that big building turned over the keys to a body less than ten years old. Their lampstand was removed and given to another.

In my own church, I see people who were, in the past, on fire for Christ. They knew their calling and they pursued it with a passion. Now some of those people limp along, half-heartedly, in Bible studies, in the choir, or among the ranks of the deacons. They’ve lost their first love. Still believers, still basically good people, they’re not achieving the good works they formerly knew. They risk watching their lampstand plucked out and handed to someone else.

God called me to write, among other things. Many of those other things are somewhat in the control of others, but my writing is something that is mostly within my control. I could be writing something, here or elsewhere, every day of the week.

But I don’t. I have abandoned the love I had at first. That Greek verb, aphiemi, is defined and translated various ways, but the preferred meaning, according to most scholars, here is to “give up or keep no longer.” It’s not a conscious sending away. It’s not resolutely quitting,  but more of, like the CSB translation, an abandonment.

I didn’t consciously decide to stop playing the guitar a few years ago, but I let it go and now rarely play. Frankly, I think God is fine with that. But this letting go of my first love for writing is more problematic. God’s not pleased.

What have you abandoned or let go?