Hats off to those who are “very old”
Luke 2: She was by now a very old woman.
Jesus is now eight days old and his parents take their newborn to the nearby Temple in Jerusalem for the rite of passage for every Jewish boy. Lots of people spend their days at the Temple. Some are there as doing jobs and others are simply devout people who’d rather be there than anywhere else. On this day we meet two senior citizens who are Temple regulars. One is a kindly old gentleman who loves baby dedications. He spends his time hanging out in the area where that takes place congratulating parents and asking if he can take a peek at their eight day old boys. The other is a sweet but reclusive woman who spends her days in the Court of Women. Lots of people see her there because this is where the offerings are given, but she’s generally off to the side and out of the flow, head bowed in prayer. When Joseph and Mary bring baby Jesus to the Temple, Simeon heads straight to them. There’s purpose in his walk and he gently asks if he can hold the baby. With tears in his eyes he praises God. Joseph and Mary are speechless and thrilled with this event. Then, the other senior saint shows up. Aged Anna joins them and starts singing a wonderful song of praise to God. The official baby dedication by the priest hasn’t yet happened, but these two senior adults who are so in tune with God do the most important part of the dedication on this day. As I look back over my life and think of folks who are best connected to the Lord I’m not surprised to find that they’re all older people. I’m a strong believer in God’s transforming works of grace in our lives but I also understand that maturity and spiritual depth only comes over time. When a person who’s faithfully walked with the Lord for 80 years has something to say we’re smart to listen.
Take Away: The only way to become a mature Christian is to be a faithful Christian for a long time.
My most precious gift
Proverbs 8: Don’t squander your precious life.
Proverbs eight and nine contain an imaginary conversation with “Lady Wisdom.” She offers us all kinds of advice as well as shares her lofty credentials. My favorite statement from her is “don’t squander your precious life.” Some things I think are valuable are like counterfeit money; not worth the paper it’s printed on. The day will come when someone will sift through all of my “valuables” deciding what’s worth passing on and what needs to go out to the curb to await a trip to the land fill. I’m pretty sure most of it will come up short. Sadly, we’re all prone to spend our lives chasing after things that prove to be worthless when all is said and done. Today, as I read these words I remember that life is precious indeed; an amazing and undeserved gift from God. Every breath is to be prized and great care should be taken to not waste it. I don’t want to live my life in pursuit of worthless things, spending my most valuable resource foolishly. On the other hand, I can use up my life in a quest of excellence. The question I must ask myself is, “How can I best live my life and spend this, my most precious gift?”
Take Away: How can I best live my life?
Put God first
Proverbs 1: Start with God.
The Bible tells us about God and about ourselves. Many of its pages contain a history of God and us, telling us not only where we have been but God’s desire for us in the future. However, there’s more than even that. The Lord doesn’t just want all of us to go to heaven when we die. Rather, he wants us to live the best lives possible in the here and now. That’s what the book of Proverbs is about. These wise sayings aren’t written to tell us our history and they aren’t written to point to way to heaven. They tell us how to live the wisest way today. So, as we begin to read this collection of insights into life we’re immediately given the foundational secret: “Start with God — the first step in learning is bowing down to God.” Theoretically, I might get everything else right, but if I miss this number one concept before long it will all tumble down. Wisdom begins with God and because of that the satisfied, complete life starts here too. Jesus says it this way, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Take Away: When we build our lives around the Lord we have the potential of building a rich, satisfying life…“Start with God.”
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.
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.
The big picture
1Kings 4: People came from far and near to listen to the wisdom of Solomon.
Under King Saul Israel becomes a military power. Under David, the nation is united and made secure. Now, under King Solomon Israel becomes an admired, respected nation. It is one thing to be feared and safe and secure and something more to be respected, viewed as a positive contributor to the world in general. That’s what happens as Solomon leads Israel. Those who were enemies or at least subdued rivals now come to Israel in peace to sit at the feet of her wise king and to bring goods for trade. It has taken hundreds of years but this nation of slaves has received the inheritance promised to their ancestor Abraham. I know this is the high water mark for the Kingdom of Israel, but what an impressive mark it is. Because of the patience of power of the Almighty the impossible has happened and Abraham’s journey from Ur to the Promised Land is complete. I know I’m supposed to read this story and be impressed with Solomon, but today, I can’t help but be impressed with his God; a God who makes unbelievable promises to unlikely people and then delivers on those promises. If I ever find myself doubting God, I need to step back from the close up snap shots of the Bible and get the big picture. It’s pretty impressive.
Take Away: We too have huge, amazing promises from the Lord. How thrilling it is to remember that he always keeps his promises.
What a wise guy!
1Kings 3: They were all in awe of the king, realizing that it was God’s wisdom that enabled him to judge truly.
The most famous example of the wisdom of Solomon is how he deals with two women claiming to be the mother of the same child. He relies on the love of a mother for her baby to reveal which of the two women is the baby’s mother. It’s a pretty impressive display of wisdom, but only the first. In the pages to come we repeatedly see examples of Solomon’s wisdom. Clearly, God keeps his word and gives Solomon the wisdom he so wisely asked for. I like this statement that says people are in awe of Solomon but they also recognize that his wisdom is directly from God. In the New Testament it’s James who talks about wisdom. He says that if I lack wisdom I should ask God who will freely give it. I don’t know if James is thinking about Solomon or not, but as I put these two things together I conclude that God’s in the wisdom giving business, willingly helping me make good decisions as I cooperate with him. This, my friend, is a pretty good deal. I find myself in need of wisdom and here I’m reminded that there’s a Source of wisdom available.
Take Away: Maybe we should pray for wisdom more often and concerning more things.
1Kings 3: God give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil.
Solomon begins his reign with a great worship celebration that pleases the Lord. Because of this, God asks Solomon what he can do for him. His answer is a life changing one. He asks for a “God-listening heart,” or “wisdom.” Since we’re told elsewhere in the Bible that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” describing Solomon’s request as asking for a “God-listening heart” is insightful and reasonable. If wisdom is anything it’s hearing the voice of God, especially in dealing with the gray areas of life. We also see that Solomon’s request for wisdom is a wise one! The Lord likes his request and agrees to grant it, and, in addition, to bless him in every way possible. This is all interconnected. When I base my life on having a “God-listening heart” it opens the way for God to work in my life, blessing me and blessing others through me.
Take Away: Solomon’s request might be a good starting place for us in our walk with the Lord.
Having a Moses Complex
Exodus 18: This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out…you can’t do this alone.
Moses is overwhelmed by his responsibilities yet he presses on. From morning to night he deals with the issues of leadership as this nation of former slaves struggles with issues of personal responsibility. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, visits and sees what’s happening. Moses needs to get organized by surrounding himself with capable assistants. That will be best for him, for the people of God, and even for the leaders he enlists. To do otherwise is to invite disaster because Moses does have a job to do and if he burns himself out trying to do everything he’ll end up doing nothing. Moses accepts the word of wisdom from Jethro and surrounds himself with competent, God-fearing, loyal people. I think we pastors sometimes have a “Moses complex.” It isn’t entirely our fault. The “higher-ups” are very pastor focused and our lay people will cheer us right into the grave as we try to do it all. We’re wise to spend some time listening to old Jethro and begin handing some things off to good people who are likely more gifted in specific areas than we are anyway. That will free them up to do what God gifted them to do and it will also let us focus our energy doing what we’re called to do in the first place.
Take Away: Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything.