Philip and the Ethiopian
Acts 8: He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road.
Philip is deeply involved in a great revival in Samaria. Miracles are taking place, and people are coming to faith in Jesus by the hundreds and, probably, thousands. The Holy Spirit is filling lives and Philip is at the heart of a real move of God. Then, the Lord speaks to Philip, sending him away from the action and out to the wilderness. Rather than ministering to thousands, he’s to watch for just one man, the one known in history simply as the Ethiopian eunuch. This person is more or less a mystery in the Bible. Here’s an African traveling to Jerusalem to worship. What’s up with that? Some think this proves the, mostly fictional, connection between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and that because of her visit to Solomon hundreds of years earlier that there’s now a pocket of Jehovah worshipers in northern Africa. Perhaps this man is one of those worshipers and, because of his standing in government, he’s able to make the long journey to Jerusalem to worship. It’s fun to speculate about stuff like this. However, for Philip, none of this matters. He’s on a mission from God to tell this mysterious man about Jesus and that’s what he does. The man believes in Jesus, asks to be baptized, and, as he’s baptized, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit to a town thirty miles away. As I read this story, I not only enjoy thinking of the mystery of the Ethiopian, but of Philip’s obedience to the seeming unreasonable orders of the Lord. If I’m in the middle of a great revival and the Lord tells me to leave it all and head out to the wilderness to find one person, I might be a bit hesitant, wondering if I’m hearing the Lord’s command correctly. Philip, though, just obeys and the result is this incident. Why this Ethiopian? My guess is that he becomes the first missionary for Jesus in Africa, boosting the spread of the Gospel in the direction opposite from Rome, which will soon be Paul and Silas’ territory. I may be wrong here, but it’s fun to think about stuff like this.
Take Away: The Lord’s definition of success is often quite different than ours.
Experimenting on oneself
Ecclesiastes 2: I said to myself, “Let’s go for it — experiment with pleasure, have a good time.”
One of the experiments of Solomon is to see if pleasure produces lasting happiness. As a powerful king he has all the resources necessary for this experiment. He builds exquisite palaces and gardens, acquires an army of servants, amasses enormous wealth, and fills his life with beautiful women. He reports, “Everything I wanted I took.” Many people at least attempt this approach to happiness, although few have the resources to pull it off. Because of that, they remain convinced that just a little more of this or that will do the trick. They think that once they arrive at that point they’ll be truly satisfied. Solomon, though, does have it all. Not only that, he goes into this experiment with his eyes wide open. His verdict? Solomon says it’s all like collecting smoke. He’s left empty and even dejected. He says he worked hard at making it all happen, expecting to arrive at a place of personal happiness and satisfaction. “Surely,” he thought to himself, “just one more palace, just another million dollars, just the right woman and everything will come together.” However, he ends up thinking it’s all a waste of time. In spite of this ancient verdict of Solomon, we still tend to believe the big lie that not only is pleasure the answer, but that it’s all there really is to life. It’s no wonder that “taking up the cross” is such a foreign language to us.
Take Away: Happiness isn’t found in possessions. It can only be found by the way of the cross.
Follow the leader
Proverbs 14: The mark of a good leader is loyal followers; leadership is nothing without a following.
There’s no such thing as a leader without followers. The Bible has several stories of leadership. Moses led for 40 years. David led not only in military and affairs of government but in worship as well. His son Solomon led to prosperity. Here are three things that come to mind when I read about these leaders. First, each of these men is not only a leader, but is also a follower who accepts the authority of the Lord and spends time with him getting his marching orders. Second, these men know how to share leadership and to train leaders. They don’t try to do everything themselves and surround themselves with capable people to help carry the leadership load. Third, they lead people to meaningful goals. These men have God given visions that gives their leadership real purpose. People believe in them and they believe the goal set out for them is worth their sacrifice. Leaders such as these have no problem attracting followers.
Take Away: God-called leaders lead with purpose in a God-chosen direction.
Take it easy
Psalm 127: Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Wise King Solomon is credited with writing both this psalm and the 72nd as well, and there’s considerable wisdom here. He reminds us that unless God is the builder a project will produce nothing worthwhile and unless God guards a city all other efforts at defense are a waste of time. It’s the next phrase that gets my attention today, “It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?” Since it’s true that God is the One who builds things that last perhaps we can relax a bit. Without the hand of God all that we accomplish by working 16 hours a day will be exhaustion. It isn’t that we have nothing worthwhile to do. The Lord graciously invites us to labor in his fields and be coworkers with him. He goes with us out into our daily lives with an agenda of his own. The reminder of this psalm is that our Master also enjoys giving us time off for rest and, especially, to enjoy our families. As we’ve heard many times, no one, at the end of life says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office and less with those I love.” Remember, the direction given in this psalm is from the wisest man who ever lived!
Take Away: Life is a gift of God to be appreciated and enjoyed.
Come and see for yourself
2 Chronicles 9: The Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s reputation.
As an example of how God blesses Solomon the writer tells us about the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Israel. Her identity in history is somewhat a mystery, although most believe she’s a ruler of what is now Yemen or Ethiopia. The point of Scripture is that God keeps his word to Solomon and blesses him in every way. In fact, God blesses him to the point that he becomes well known outside his own region and that the stories told about him are so fantastic that this national leader comes to see for herself. We’re told that she isn’t disappointed. The purpose here isn’t so much to elevate Solomon as it is to proclaim God’s faithfulness to him. Through this blessing, God’s Name is made known even in far off Sheba (wherever that actually is.) When God’s people are faithful to him he can lift them to the point that even those outside the direct influence of the Lord will take notice and come to see for themselves. At least that’s our Lord’s take on the story. In Matthew 12 he says that this heathen woman came from a great distance to meet Solomon and that her act will judge those who have every opportunity and reason to come into the presence of the very Son of God but don’t make the effort. A result of God’s blessing is that it gets the attention of the world.
Take Away: The lives of the people of the Lord are a testimony to the greatness of God.
2 Chronicles 8: Solomon built impulsively and extravagantly.
From other passages we know that Solomon built other things, including his palace before he built the Temple. Some think that’s a bad thing. I think it was just practice. Still, once he started building things David’s son could hardly stop himself. In fact, Solomon’s psychology is that of an impulsive overachiever. From the rest of his story, especially from the Book of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs I see Solomon being consumed by one thing after another. At the beginning of his story he asks for and receives the gift of wisdom, now he can’t rest until he has mastered whatever it is that catches his attention. In fact, the same thirst for understanding that causes him to be a great builder and king will become his downfall as he becomes infatuated with the women he marries and then their various gods. I don’t think the Lord sat Solomon up for a fall in granting him wisdom, but I do think that the seed of failure was in it. In fact, I think that all gifts granted to us: natural ability, attributes, and talents have the potential of being a great blessing or the source of great failure for us. In Solomon, even as we celebrate his wisdom and understanding of an encyclopedia of things, we see a red flag of warning that there’s danger in natural abilities. These things must be continually balanced by an honest admission that we’re incomplete without God, who brings balance to even the most gifted life.
Take Away: When the Lord gifts us in any way the wise course of action is to bring those gifts right back to him and place them under his authority.
God is the best
2 Chronicles 2: The house I am building has to be the best, for our God is the best.
Solomon assumes the throne of Israel with one major task before him: the construction of the Temple. His father David has accomplished much. For one thing, Israel is secure, at peace with the surrounding nations. Solomon’s efforts will not have to be divided between ruling and defending his kingdom. For another thing, David has already stockpiled building materials and funds for the Temple work. Now, the responsibility for the actual construction comes to Solomon. The young king takes the job to heart. The Temple is to be a masterpiece because it’s to be the focus of the worship of Jehovah God. Some years earlier David declared that he’d not give to God that which cost him nothing, now Solomon says that the Temple must be the best because God is the best. So, how does my life measure up against this standard? Do I give God my best at every juncture of life? I don’t want to ask God to play second fiddle in any area of my life. After all, what I give to God has to be the best because God is the best.
Take Away: The Lord is the best and he deserves my best.
Abundance of grace
2 Chronicles 1: What do you want from me? Ask.
Students of the Old Testament have long marveled at the wisdom of Solomon who, when offered anything from the Lord, asks for wisdom. In fact, the Lord, himself, is pleased with the request. Today, though, I find myself thinking about the question the Lord asks Solomon. Really, at this point Solomon has done little to cause the Lord to be impressed with him and, to be brutally honest, as I see his life being played out, I doubt he’s worthy of it. I understand that he’s assuming David’s throne and is now the leader of the people God has chosen to be his very own and in this passage I see that he starts off on the right foot, beginning his reign with a great worship service. Still, by any measure this is an unprecedented offer by the Almighty. God wants to bless Solomon. He wants this young man to be successful in all he does. Because of that, the Lord basically signs a blank check and hands it to him. I’m taken here with God’s good will toward us. He may not, like a genie, grant us anything we wish, but he does give us good things. Without doubt, he treats us better than we deserve. I know the focus on this passage is on Solomon’s answer, but today I’m taken with the abundance of grace in the question.
Take Away: The Lord delights in blessing us.