Clearing Ground: Solomon

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 28, 2016)

Today we’re looking at Solomon’s life to see what we can learn about clearing ground in our lives, clearing ground and making room for what God wants to do in us.

Solomon is a wonderful reminder of the fact that a good start is nice, but finishing is what really matters. He started so very well, but the finish was painful.

I want to show you a penalty kick at the end of a soccer game. For a goalie, this task is almost impossible. You’ve got to try and stop a kick from point blank range, and people just aren’t usually big enough or agile enough to react and stop the ball. This goalie starts with things going really well…

 

 

The finish is agony, a loss that could have been simply avoided if he hadn’t celebrated too soon.

I’ve spent a lot of time taking pictures at track meets. More times than I can count, I’ve seen people burst out to a great start only to fade way before the race is over. One of the most heartbreaking ones was watching a senior girl dominate the 800 from the start at the district meet, only to be passed in the last few meters by two girls, causing our senior to miss the chance to go to the state meet.

To start well is great, but it is the finish that counts.

Solomon started so well.

In 1 Kings chapter 3, God appears to Solomon in a dream. God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants…and Solomon recognizes how good God has been to his father David, humbly acknowledges his own inexperience and that the huge task of governing the whole country is overwhelming, Solomon asks for “a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” Turn with me to 1 Kings 3:11:

So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice. I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. (1 Kings 3:11-13, TNIV)

Right after that, we read of a fantastic example of how Solomon puts that wisdom to great use. Verse 28 sums up the result: “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.” Solomon uses his wisdom and leadership gifts well, and the people benefit. Down in chapter 4, verse 20 we read: “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank, and they were happy.”

Things are great, and Solomon decides he will do something good for God. Turn to 1 Kings 5:4.

But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God, as the LORD told my father David, when he said, ‘Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name. (1 Kings 5:4-5)

It’s a great start. But unfortunately, Solomon still had many years to go.

Building the temple does sound like a very spiritual thing to do, but the bible is pretty mixed in its evaluation. God has always been on the move, in a tent, leading the Israelites…and while in one sense the temple is an upgrade from a tent, there’s another sense where this sort of seems like taming God, like trying to take control of God. It’s very clear that it’s helpful to Solomon’s power to have the spiritual center right at the heart of his kingdom.

We read all the details, all the incredible wealth poured into building the temple. We also read that Solomon enslaves over 180,000 people to get the building done, which I’m sure put a bit of a damper on the people eating, drinking and being merry. The details and the wealth seem to distract Solomon; his head gets turned toward other things.

What turns your head? What distracts you? Perhaps that’s another way to think of what thorns and weeds need to be cleared.

Take a look at this series of pictures from 6 or so years ago.

_MG_6859

This is with one lap to go in a 1500, and the Glencoe guy has run a great race up to this point. He’s leading our guy Phil.

_MG_6873

One lap later, Phil has closed some ground with about 10 meters to go. And then the Glencoe guy gets distracted.

_MG_6874

Even though all these races are carefully timed-there are literally half a dozen volunteers sitting just past this to record the official times of everyone-even though these races are carefully timed, Glencoe guy decides he has to make the effort to stop his own watch.

_MG_6877

Phil charges ahead, pushes forward, and by the time they cross the finish line where the cheerleader is standing, Phil has passed him and all his work is ruined by the distraction of his watch.

As time marches on, so many things distract Solomon. So many interests, pursuits, and loves surround him and distract him, so many thorns grow up to choke out what God is wanting to do in his life. Grab your bibles and let’s quickly work through them.

In the eleventh year in the month of Bul, the eighth month, the temple was finished in all its details according to its specifications. He had spent seven years building it.
It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace. He built the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high, with four rows of cedar columns supporting trimmed cedar beams. (1 Kings 6:38-7:2, TNIV)

Seven years building God’s temple, but thirteen years building his own palace. And it’s bigger, no doubt about that. His own wealth begins to become a distraction that turns his head. Turn with me over a few chapters to 1 Kings 10:26

Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore- fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue –the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. (1 Kings 10:26-29a, TNIV)

And then his love and his sexual desire for women becomes a major crop of thorns and distractions.

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:1-6, TNIV)

The marriages are a way to consolidate his power, building relationships with neighboring nations. His desire for more power leads to more wives, and his love for them leads him astray; he holds fast to these wives and lets his hold on God slip.

Add to this the fact that even with 700 wives he also finds 300 concubines, and you realize that sexual desire has run rampant, far, far beyond anything that could be considered healthy or mutual.

It becomes difficult, as we get to the end of Solomon’s life, to find any sign of the good start, any sign of the humility, any sign of the discernment with which he began his reign. What has become impossible to miss are the wealth, the desire for power, the people coming to visit him and fawn over him, the love and the sexual obsession and addiction that has overtaken all waking hours of his life.

Far from clearing any ground, Solomon is an example of thorns taking over. He’s got the classic examples of sin: power, wealth and sex, and we see with crystal clarity that it destroys his pursuit of God. It affects far more than just him; the kingdom full of people who once loved his rule, who “ate, drank and were happy”…that kingdom will be ripped in two at the end of his life, never to be restored again.

Whatever we want to call them–thorns, or distractions, or things that turn our heads, or sin–whatever we want to call them, they have devastating effects on our lives as well.

Lent is a time to face them and turn away from them. Lent is a time to ask God to open our eyes to how our loves and pursuits are taking over. Lent is a time to say I’m sorry, and ask God for forgiveness and for help to change.

What turns your head? What things or pursuits are taking more and more of your time, more and more of your attention and energy? I want to pause a minute and actually ask you to think about that. Maybe you want to write down your thoughts on the worship sheet. [PAUSE]

Thank you. Now I’m going to ask us to consider one more thing. 

Have you been resting, coasting on a strong beginning and forgetting how long the race is? Have you been resting, coasting on past good God-choices, choices that are now years in the past? Resting perhaps on your Christian upbringing or heritage?

Today is a reminder that things creep into our lives that put our good starts at risk. That doesn’t have to bring fear, but it should challenge us to look for God’s leading now. Think for a bit about key experiences of God’s leading in your life. If you had a timeline of your life in front of you, and you marked those “God moments” on them…would it be in danger of falling over like a teeter-totter because the dots are all in the past? Invite God to help you see the reality of the ground of your spiritual life right now. [PAUSE]

The first step to clearing ground, the most potent weed killer in our spiritual life, is repentance.

Whatever you’ve noticed, whatever is threatening to ruin or has ruined your promising start…tell God you are sorry and ask for forgiveness. Whatever you’ve been feeding with your attention and time that is causing your priorities to shift away from God, stop feeding it by admitting to God you want to change, you’re sorry, and you need help.

Today I want to close with Solomon’s words from a better time in his life. Listen to part of the prayer he offered when the temple was dedicated; it’s such a clear picture of what clear ground looks like. [READ 1 Kings 8:57-58] [CLICK on screen]

May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. (1 Kings 8:57-58, TNIV)

Advertisements