Monday, June 25, 2012

If it can happen to Solomon...

I’ve been reflecting on worship yesterday (I’m writing this on Monday). It was powerful. Jason, Bryan (McKaig), and Rachel led us with concert-quality music and songs that spanned centuries—from 1700s hymns to original pieces written by Jason this year—with the simplest of instruments and soaring vocal harmonies. Wow, I hate it for those who had to be away! Then Bryan Parris (affectionately called BP around here) did an excellent job making sense of a hard week’s reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. All week last week I was kind of thankful that I was not bringing the message, in part due to the difficulty of the book! Solomon is easy to talk about when we are considering the early part of his reign as king. He’s the wise son of David who was so successful. It was during this first part of his reign is when he apparently wrote Proverbs, those incredibly practical truisms that still make wise those who apply them. But then something happened. I don’t think it happened overnight. I think it happened over many years. Solomon strayed. Something I love about the Bible is its brutal honesty (as contrasted to human-authored books which tend to edit out conflicting or unpleasant character-flaws of our heroes). BP showed us this from 1 Kings 11. I’ll include a few more verses:

1Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God,as was the heart of David his father. 5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.6So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

There’s so much there that deserves comment...but I’m gonna stick to my point. What happened to Solomon?! How did he go from godly, wise king to one who had “turned away his heart,” “not wholly true to the Lord” and doing “evil in the sight of the Lord”? All the work of David to remove the high places, idolatry, and vanquish the pagan nations seems to have been reversed! All of this certainly didn’t happen overnight. Our small group met last night (Sunday) and had some great discussion about what happened to Solomon. Here are some of their thoughts:

Sensuality overcame morality. It is true that when we pursue the flesh we do not walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17). It is obvious that he gained an appetite for “many foreign women.” Although polygamy was practiced then (although it was not God's desire), sexually desiring others besides our spouse is no strange concept to us—people love (i.e. lust after) others all the time, as Jesus said, committing adultery in their hearts. When sensuality becomes your motivation, morality is cast aside. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

Material wealth choked out spiritual health. This is a huge danger. We can get our desires set on the wrong things. BP made this point well. Stuff can become a god. Jesus said, you cannot serve both God and mammon. Like the seed that fell among the thorns, “they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Matt. 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). Maybe that’s why he said it’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

The will to please God gave way to the will to please people. I don’t know how, but “Solomon clung to [his wives] in love.” I would not have been able to even remember their names! He had about as many wives as we have in average attendance at Providence! Dude! All joking aside, these women had a profound influence on him. He started making compromises. He made allowances for them to be able to worship false gods—even built places for worship near Jerusalem “for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.” He didn’t lead. He followed the crowd. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

Low accountability allowed high vulnerability. As kids we all dream of what it would be like to be a king. Nobody could tell us what to do. Now that I’m old, I realize how dangerous that situation really is. Even David had Nathan who would point out sin in his life. Solomon seems to have no one. We need accountability! It is healthy to have people in a place of spiritual authority in our lives who can lovingly tell us when we blindly begin to compromise. None of us like it our sin is pointed out. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

Pride replaced humility. A curse of great intellectual ability, accomplishment, power, or wealth is pride. Humans can hardly help to think of themselves as smarter or better than others. Although it’s not as obvious, we can see in Ecclesiastes that Solomon thought himself smarter and better than any in his own time and before him. Oh, if he would have only obeyed his own Proverb (16:18): “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

There are other possible factors that contributed to Solomon’s fall. Our small group thought of many more. But I like how BP pointed out Solomon’s own self-assessment—given at the end of Ecclesiastes—the regretful, realization of a repentant old king:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

BP said to “fear God” is to “desire God’s authority” and to “keep his commandments” is essentially to “desire Christ’s character.” Well said. By keeping this focus we can avoid repeating Solomon’s folly. God, help me do this.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Get Wise!

We're in a great place in the Journey right now. We're reading about Solomon and wisdom literature attributed to him (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon). I introduced it Sunday. It is really practical stuff.

Wisdom doesn’t come naturally. Foolishness does. It’s easier to be lazy than to work hard. It’s easier to lie and cheat than to be truthful. It’s easier to lust than to maintain purity. It’s easier to be passive than to take initiative. It’s easier to over eat and drink than to practice moderation. It’s easier to spend money than to save it. Sometimes wisdom seems counterintuitive!

“There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza, feeling like a total failure, determined he was a loser because of where he was in life (mid-thirties, broke, single, no job, living with parents)? It occurred to him that he was in this miserable place due to following his natural instincts. So he decided to do the opposite of his instincts from then on. Hilarious! By the end of the show his life had completely turned around: he had a job with the New York Yankees, he dated a gorgeous woman, and he had an upscale apartment in Manhattan. So funny!

It’s true that our natural tendency is not toward wisdom, it is towards foolishness. If you follow your natural instincts through life, you'll find that many of things that seem like a good idea at the time, prove to be miserable choices. But wisdom brings great rewards.

Blessed is the one who listens to me [wisdom]...
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord (Proverbs 8:34-35).

Solomon found out that if you have wisdom, you can have anything. With wisdom, you'll not only be able to make money, you'll know how to keep it. You'll be able to find and develop lasting friendships. You'll know what to say and when to say it. If you have wisdom, you'll be able to sleep at night because you won't be dreading the consequences of your actions. You’ll avoid a lot of the misery people bring on themselves, and know how to maximize your personal happiness. With wisdom, you'll be able to raise your kids the right way so that they too will find happiness. When you have wisdom, you really have everything!

That’s why you should desire wisdom, and Proverbs is a great place to discover it. That’s what we’re reading this week. Be wise! Read Proverbs with us! Even if you’ve fallen off the reading wagon, this is a great place to get back on!

Share your favorite verses on our Facebook page or on Twitter (hashtag: #provjourney. That will make your tweet show up on and encourage the rest of us! Come Sunday and we'll talk about it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

It's All About Surrender

It’s All About Surrender

(From the blog of
“It’s all about surrender.”
I was raised in a home where those four words were spoken often. As an adult I find them to be true almost every day. When I have surrendered to God—truly surrendered—my perspective about everything else is different. Priorities are clearer; I live with more purpose; I find more joy in what I do; and problems are handled much better. My life is not as difficult because petty worries are seen by me as, well, petty. It really is about surrender.
I’m not specifically talking about receiving Christ and being saved. I’m assuming this has already happened to you. If not, of course that must happen first. Becoming a Christian is to be born again. If you have not yet done so, you can respond to God’s call and believe and trust Christ, asking him to forgive you of your sins. When you sincerely ask God to save you and be your Lord, it is an act of surrender. And he will answer and save! You become his child. This is a one-time and forever thing. Although no fireworks happen, you are regenerated by God. Now justified and made righteous by his grace, his work of sanctification—the process of becoming holy—begins.
Which brings me back to surrender. I have found that I need to mentally surrender to Christ each day. When my alarm sounds and I’m dragging my groggy body to the bathroom, I frequently breathe, “God, I surrender.” As I start the day, I’m relying on his grace and I say to him, “I surrender.” Sometimes when I’m really not feeling it I pray, “God, help me to surrender.” It works (and I’m not a morning person)! God’s grace and work on us doesn’t cease after we believe. This daily exercise is not original to me. Paul said, “I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Cor. 15:31). Dying to self is surrendering.
When I surrender this way, it changes much more than my attitude and mood. Like Paul might say, “When I’ve already died, even death isn’t so big a deal. I’m able to face persecution with courage.” Or as he actually wrote, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). When I have surrendered to Christ, obedience and trust in other matters come much easier. I’ve already fought and won the main battle—who’s in control. The rest are just minor skirmishes that amount to little more than academic exercises. Now temptation to lust or covet has been rendered much less powerful. Making decisions is easier because I respond according to what brings God glory. I’m not trying to please people or myself. Now I don’t get angry as easy over trivial things.
Like generosity. If I’ve already given God my self, giving away money and time for his glory is not a chore. It’s a joy.
All of the different aspects of The Journey reflect biblical Christianity. To “unsurrendered” people, they can sound overwhelming! But all of them flow naturally and joyfully from a surrendered heart. These aspects—reading and knowing God’s Word, belonging and serving in community, praying, going away on mission, and giving to kingdom causes—they are not the main point. The battle is not whether or not to do any of those things. The battle is whether to surrender.
If you haven’t, you should try it. Really.