Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Type of Thrones

Martin's mental image of the Iron Throne
is that it sits asymmetrically, and that the
one seated on it is at least ten feet high. 
Thrones mean power and position. In contemporary culture, there is no throne more recognizable than the Iron Throne from George R.R. Martin's book series A Song of Fire and Ice, popularized by HBO's televised adaptation, Game of Thrones. (Though I'm a huge fan of good fictional fantasy, I decided not to watch the show due to the kinds content they've chosen to include.) In fact, it's clear that the typical representation of the Iron Throne is actually much smaller than what Martin had envisioned in his head. The idea is that the Throne was made by a conquering king, created with a thousand swords surrendered by his enemies. Here is how one character describes the throne in A Storm of Swords:
Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, ser. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it. It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease. Ofttimes I wonder why my brothers wanted it so desperately.
This particular throne is a symbol of conquest, cruelty, and dominance. The one who occupies it has obtained it by ugly displays of power and treachery.

There is an uncomfortably easy connection between power and brutality, and this connection is not limited to fiction. When Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq in July 1979, within one week, he called out an assembly of the Ba'ath Party, his political enemies. In the meeting, a list of 68 names were read aloud, and all of them were arrested and removed from the room. All 68 were found guilty of treason, and 22 were sentenced to death. By August 1979, hundreds of his political foes had been executed. Whatever type of throne he sat upon, his power represented brutality, bloodshed, and ruthlessness.

In any tension between people and the one who rules them, the question often arises about the source of a person's power. "Who put you in charge?" It isn't uncommon for people to mutter under their breath about their superiors' use and misuse of rank and position. We speak this way frequently about our politicians, our police officers, and even about a wide array of people who are gatekeepers to whatever thing that we happen to want right now. 

It is our typical hangups about power and abuse that made a verse in Psalm 22 catch my attention:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Proverbs 22:3-5)
Granted, there is plenty of language in Scripture about God conquering his enemies, but it is God's throne here that I find captivating: God sits enthroned on the praises of his people. There is an extent to which people can say, "Well, it's God, and if God says he's the King, there's nothing you can do to stop him." But God does not sit on a throne of swords or in a position that he has created through terror and treachery.

As the psalmist alludes to, God's people praise him because of the ways he's taken care of us. We've relied on God and found him to be trustworthy. We've been in situations too dense for us to navigate, and he has rescued us and blessed us. The end result of following God is that we've been honored, and not put to shame. The throne God occupies is made of the great praises we can offer because of what he's done for us. It is a reign of peace, blessing, and compassion. God will sit on a throne of well-deserved praise, and it his intention to earn it--not to force it--through the way he cares for us.

Each of us occupies some type of position in life that we have created for ourselves. Some do obtain their statuses in life through shrewdness and manipulation, but these positions have limited staying power. The kind of position we should desire in this life comes from what we sow in the lives of others, and it is not a respect that can be demanded. Precisely the opposite. To be known as a person of integrity. To be trusted as a person of character. To be remembered as a person of kindness and courage. These are powerful positions to occupy, yet they come through the path of service and humility. We shouldn't do good only when we believe we are likely to receive praise, but this should not hinder us from always striving to do things that are praiseworthy.

When it's all said and done, a throne of praise is better than a throne of iron any day.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Prayer for the Season

Our Loving Father in Heaven,

Before we awoke this morning, you were already blessing us. By your help we slept safely through the night, and because of your grace we can rise this day. We can open our eyes, stand, walk, talk, laugh, cry, hurt, and heal because you have given us the gifts of life, health, and a passionate, meaningful existence in this world. Our food, clothing, and shelter all come from things you yourself created and provided. We experience the joy of having them because of the talents and opportunities you've given us to prosper. When we look at our family and our friends, we know that these are all your children whom you've decided to share with us for a while. Help us to value the people around us who enrich our life and make it worth living. In fact, apart from your goodness and your generosity, we would have nothing and no one. All good things come from you. 

Thank you, Lord, for the joyful memories, the victories, and the successes, because these remind us that you hear our prayers and that you love us. Thank you also for the painful experiences, the failures, and the defeats, because they remind us how much we need you. Help us to make the most of this busy season, with the opportunities it provides to create memories with the people we love. Be especially near to our friends whose hearts are heavy right now because of those no longer among us, or those who may soon be departing. 

Lord, please work on the hearts of those who make themselves your enemies. Give them what experience they need to awaken them and to help them come to their senses. Work through us so that by the power of the Gospel, our enemies can become your friends. Reclaim and redeem them for more noble purposes. When a lost child wants to return to you, may they find us to be a welcoming family and a warm place to call home.  

We see, Lord, but please give us better vision. We love, Lord, but please give us deeper compassion. We speak, Lord, but please give us greater courage. We believe, Lord, but please help our unbelief. May our own joy be wrapped up in the things that bring your heart joy.

We approach you, Father, with the help of the Spirit, and through the power of Jesus' name. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Few Predictions

This is a post for my fellow Christians. I am neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I'd like to make a few predictions. I don't know about for you, but for me, social media has been nearly unbearable for the last couple of weeks. There are lots of people talking, but so few who are listening, and even fewer who seem interested in the credibility of what they are sharing. I try to remind myself that all complaining about social media is ridiculous, because participating in these platforms is a completely optional thing to do. But the truth is, we speak, post, and tweet from the overflow of our hearts (Luke 6:45). If social media is any indication, there are a lot of strong emotions, both positive and negative, which people have been feeling. 

So whether you are elated or horrified by current events, here are a few predictions I would like to make:

1. The world we live in will continue to be a messed up place.
Even when there are fixes for some of society's problems, other areas will be neglected, and still others may be over-corrected. People who've grown up one way in one place will continue having difficulty in understanding people who've grown up in another. No administration is ever going to relieve us of all problems. Our best case scenario for government is that it will make things better than they are for as many people as possible, and certainly, we hope and pray for this. But any government run by people will have all the flaws that its people do. This shouldn't surprise us. Only in the coming Kingdom of Christ can we know that all things will truly be as they should (Revelation 7:17). 

2. God will continue to do amazing things in the world, even through us.
It has never been our goal as people of faith to live in a problemless society. If we are willing to be taught, our problems can even be sources of tremendous personal growth for us when we persevere and endure. Life in this world will give us trouble, but Jesus has already overcome the world, and for this reason we should be encouraged (John 16:33). In fact, regardless of what happens with our nation or our culture, God is going to continue to work all things together for our good because we love him and he loves us (Romans 8:28). God has used good kings like David to bless nations (Acts 13:22), but he has also used terrible tyrants to serve his larger plan (Habakkuk 1:5-6). God is not limited by who is ruling over us. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will continue to witness God doing amazing things in our lives and around the world, no matter who sits on any throne or in any office. God is still with us, and God is at work. 

3. Your happiness will be affected much more by your choice to walk with God than by any other external factor.
The only thing in your life that is truly unchanging is the love of God. When you make your choices based on financial prospects, threats, relationships, or peer pressure, some decisions turn out well and others turn out poorly. But you will never regret any action you take that comes from a pure place in your heart, driven by compassion and faith. God's love stays with you, no matter what, and nothing can take it away from you (Romans 8:38-39). Every extra prayer you offer, every extra bit of encouragement you give, and every time you do something difficult because you've been motivated to do so by your love of Christ, these are things that go with us into eternity, enduring longer than the earth itself (1 Peter 1:7). 

I encourage you to do all the good that you can and give the best parts of yourself to what matters most, then let God worry about the rest.