Day 173: Living in the Sweet Spot (Proverbs 30:7-9)

7 Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago, based on the book The Prayer of Agur by Jay Payleitner. If you’d like to watch to the whole sermon, you can watch it here.

Proverbs 30 is written by a guy that is easily overlooked. His name is Agur.  This is the only time he’s mentioned in the entire Bible. His prayer is the only prayer in Proverbs.

The buried treasure in Proverbs 30 is the three-verse prayer that delivers a shocking formula for trusting God, discovering his will for our life.

Four Principles from The Prayer of Agur:

  1. Be simple with your prayers.

Jesus warned us about long, drawn out, complicated prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told His disciples:

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Why is this such a good strategy for prayer? Well, it has to do with attention span. I’m not saying God has a short attention span. You could give God a list of a hundred million requests, and he would remember every single one. God’s attention span is limitless!

But ours isn’t. And if we have a personal prayer list that it would take hours to pray all the way through, we’re going to have a hard time tracking God’s response. But I think Agur’s example is an approach to prayer worth remembering.

Any time you can boil your prayer requests down to a small number of specific heartfelt desires you’re going to find yourself more aware of God working in you and through you to deliver answers.

What two things does Agur ask for? He has identified his top two personal weaknesses. The two things he struggles with most: Discerning truth and owning stuff. Let’s tackle one at a time. This brings us to our second lesson from Agur’s Prayer:

2. Be a stickler for the truth.

Agur prays, “Keep falsehoods and lies far from me.” You can almost hear Agur’s thought process as if he’s saying, I know the world is filled with lies, and they trip me up way too often. Father in heaven, please protect my ears from hearing lies that might lead me down the wrong path. And keep my lips from lying so that I might not deceive others.

And can I jump ahead a little bit to make an important point about this? The next part of Agur’s prayer is about moderation and balance—give me neither poverty or riches—I don’t need to live in a mansion, but I don’t want to live in a carboard box, either. But when it comes to discerning truth, Agur isn’t asking for moderation. He’s not saying, “give me a little truth, and a little shadiness. Help me to be mostly honest.” No. He says, “keep falsehoods and lying FAR from me.”

Beloved, we do not have to throw our hands up in the air and pretend we don’t know what to believe and who is telling the truth. We have the mind of Christ, and Christ has come into the world to bear witness to the truth.

So when we pray the prayer of Agur—keep falsehood and lies far from me, realize that is a two way street. We pray for

  • Discernment with what we receive. Not every news source is trustworthy. Having a Twitter account does not make you an expert. And just because something is shared or liked or retweeted six million times, that does not make it true.
  • Discipline with what we share. Truth matters, and it dishonors the name of Jesus if we pass on something we know to be false.

Agur recognizes God is the source of virtue and integrity. He wants to be on the winning team. That comes from hearing truth, discerning truth, and speaking truth.

3 Be satisfied with your stuff.

The first half of Agur’s prayer is universal. After all, everyone wants to know what’s really true. Even crooks and liars. They may ignore the truth, but they want to know it.

However, Agur’s next request is a stunner. He dares to pray for a life of moderation: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

Moderation? That’s not on anyone’s checklist. Especially in the twenty-first century. We are living in an age of extremes.

Did you know that in 2018, there were over 60,000 self-storage facilities in the united States? There are more self storage facilities than McDonald’s, Wendy’s Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts COMBINED! We spent almost $5 billion in the construction of new facilities so that people would have a place to store all the stuff they didn’t have room for in their houses! This is a 344% increase since 2008.

On the flipside is another extreme. There’s an entire subculture choosing to live as minimalists. Maybe you know someone cutting up credit cards and clearing out clutter. They don’t want the latest gadgets. Their entire wardrobe fits in one knapsack or cardboard box. They live in micro apartments and tiny homes. They use Apple products. Marie Kondo is their prophet—if it doesn’t spark joy, throw it out!

Now, you are probably never going to hear a prosperity gospel preacher quoting Proverbs 30:8. They might agree with the first part—”don’t give me poverty” but not the second part—“don’t give me riches.” And the minimalist crowd would agree with the second half, but not the first half.

Agur is not endorsing minimalism. Nor is he saying wealth and influence define success. He endorses neither fast or slow, big or small, fancy or simple.

Agur is praying for the grace to live in the sweet spot. The perfect mixture of getting what you need and needing what you get. He sums it up nicely: “give me only my daily bread.”

Agur’s prayer for only his daily bread was written down almost a thousand years before Christ. Today, we recognize that phrase from The Lord’s Prayer delivered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The thing is, that’s not what Agur prayed. He added the word only. That introduces an entire deeper level of trust in the one who provides. It takes a bit of courage to pray, “Give me only my daily bread.”

Why, by the way, would anyone pray that way? We kind of want to say, “God, all I really NEED is my daily bread, but if you WANT to give me more— I’m not gonna say no…” Why would anyone pray that God wouldn’t give them more than just the basics?

4. Be Honest With Yourself

Agur identified his weakness. It was materialism. Stuff. He knew if he had too much, he would take the credit himself. “I don’t need God after all.”

If he had too little, he would steal and dishonor God. Agur was asking for his cash flow to be . . . just right.

To be clear, money itself was not the problem. It was Agur’s emotional attachment to money. The Bible doesn’t say “money is the root of evil.” It says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Let’s applaud Agur’s self-awareness. He is praying, in essence, “Lord, keep me dependent on you. Having complete trust in you is the balance in which I want to live. I can’t do life without you.”

Agur’s overarching concerns were that he would neither forget God nor dishonor God. God’s glory was his first and only passion. For Agur, and for all of us, that is life in the Sweet Spot.

Day 172: Wives and Concubines (1 Kings 10-11; 2 Chronicles 9)

“He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” 1 Kings 11:3, ESV

A couple of years ago, my family and I were coming back from vacation. My wife and I were listening to our daily Bible reading on the car speakers. When we got to 1 Kings 11:3, my teenage son, from the backseat says, “Wait… what?”

So began an awkward conversation about why (or even how) anyone could have 700 wives. Followed by an even more awkward conversation about what a concubine was. And at one point, my son said, “I just can’t even wrap my head around this.”

And he’s right. We get to this part of the story and we can’t relate to it.

Was it all about sex and lust? Well, about a third of it was. Solomon had 300 concubines–women with a lower status than a wife, and whose only purpose was to fulfill the sexual desires of the king. According to an excellent article on the practice at, a concubine could also function to provide a male heir if a wife was barren, and to increase the work force on a family farm. But for crying out loud, Solomon had 700 wives, so there’s no way all of them would have been unable to have children. And he wasn’t a farmer, and even if he was, 1 Kings has already gone into detail about Solomon’s program of forced labor. So the idea of needing concubines to increase the work force or produce an heir just doesn’t wash with Solomon. It was pretty much all about the sex. And since every other description of Solomon in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 is over the top–more wisdom, more riches, a bigger throne, and an annual shipment of apes and peacocks (because, why not?)–then of course his libido would be over the top as well.

However, the 700 wives was not about the sex. The key is the phrase “who were princesses.” Each of these wives represented a strategic alliance with a foreign power. Each was an attempt to fortify Solomon’s earthly empire. They were 700 ways Solomon was trusting something other than God.

And that I can relate to. I make strategic alliances with dozens, maybe hundreds of little kingdoms because I think they can give me what God longs to give. We make alliances with popularity, leisure, finances, politics, technology, entertainment, alcohol, prescription drugs— the list goes on. I’ve clung to each in love. Each has turned away my heart.

In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul writes an agonized line to the faithless Corinthians: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” 

Dear Lord, let me renew my vows to you and you alone today. Thank you for loving me jealously. I look to you as my one source for all my needs.

Three Bibles: A Funeral Sermon

Today we laid to rest a precious woman in our church. Ethel passed away at her home last Thursday. She did not show up to take a church member to a doctor’s appointment, and when we went to her house, there was no response. After getting permission to enter into our house, one of our deacons, who is also a police officer for our city, found her on the floor.

Ethel was very specific in her instructions. Graveside only. Nothing at the church. No music. And no more than 20 minutes at the graveside. At first, I was bothered by this, wondering if we had done something as a church to offend Ethel. But that truly was not it at all. Ethel simply did not want anyone to make a fuss over her.

Normally, I try to meet with the family to hear stories about their loved one as I am preparing a funeral. But I never was able to connect with them before hand. All I had to go by were three of Ethel’s tattered and dogeared Bibles. The first one was printed in 1945. The last one had our church’s bulletin from last week stuck between its pages.

I sat down at my desk and laid all three of Ethel’s Bibles in front of me, hoping to find something I could say about her life from the seventy years of notes she had made in these Bibles. Here is what I came up with.

This past Friday, I got a call from Mrs. Dorothy _______. I asked her how she was doing. She said, “I’m sad. I’ve lost my best friend.”

Dorothy is the one that Mrs. Ethel was supposed to pick up on Thursday for a doctor’s appointment. When Ethel didn’t show, that’s when we discovered that Ethel had died at home. It’s fitting, that for a woman who was absolutely committed to not drawing any attention to herself, the only way we came to know of her passing was when she didn’t show up to help someone else.

Because if Ethel wasn’t there, that’s when you knew something was wrong.

Because Ethel was always there. Pastors know that there are certain people that will be at church every time the doors were open. Ethel was one of those people.

Our church secretary shared with me that her first experience with Ethel was when Stacey’s family first came to Glynwood, and Ethel was the Sunday school teacher for the two year olds. Stacey’s two oldest children both had Ethel as their Sunday school teacher. And every Sunday, week in and week out, Ethel was there.

The Sunday school teacher for the two year olds is not a position in a church that gets a lot of attention, which is probably exactly why Mrs. Ethel found her place of service there. Stacey remembers how Ethel would feed her kids with treats she brought from home. And even when her co teacher would tell her, “Ethel, they are about to go to lunch! You don’t need to give them any more treats, Ethel would still slip them treats under the table.

Trying her best to make sure no one else noticed. Because that’s who Ethel was.

I have a feeling we aren’t going to grasp the full impact of all that Ethel did until a few months from now, when we at the church look around and suddenly notice some things that just always seemed to get done are not being done anymore. Ethel did so much, but she worked harder than anyone I know to make sure she wouldn’t get the credit for it. She would come in early for a senior adult lunch and put a little treat at everyone’s place around the tables. Then she would leave and come back so that anyone who saw her walk in would see her coming in empty-handed.

She was adamant that she not get credit or attention for anything.

God love her, that is why we are here for a graveside service only,  and not the sanctuary at Glynwood. That’s why we are only meeting for about fifteen-twenty minutes. Ethel did not want anyone to make a fuss over her.

Ethel lived her life in a way that would draw attention to Jesus. And so I will do my best to honor her wishes by spending the rest of our time together drawing your attention to the Savior Ethel loved so much, and in whom she put her trust.

The best testimony to a life well lived is a Bible, well used. I’ve heard it said that when your Bible is falling apart, it’s a sure sign that your life isn’t.

And so Ethel’s family was kind enough to let me borrow not just one of Ethel’s Bibles, but three of them. I kind of approached this like an archaeologist, trying to learn about a culture from the writings they left behind.

I’m pretty sure this is the oldest one, because it’s the only one that doesn’t mention Terry. On the first page her name is written as Ethel W____, with a five digit telephone number.

There are more than a dozen different scripture references written on the first few pages, but the biggest one is Malachi 3:8:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’ In tithes and offerings… Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing. 

And then, on the first pages of this Bible, which by the way was printed in 1945, Ethel wrote this chart:

  • Tithe: 10%
  • House Payment: 20%
  • Groceries: 20%
  • Utitlities: 20%
  • Insurance: 10%
  • Car Payment: 10%
  • Miscellaneous: 10%

I guess the miscellaneous was where Mrs. Ethel bought all the snacks for her two year olds.

But right under Malachi 3:8, Ethel wrote “Matthew 6:19,” and next to it, “My favorite verse in the Bible.”

Matthew 6:19 says,

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Doesn’t that by itself help you understand who Ethel was so much better? She was not someone who cared about earthly treasure. She cared about treasure in heaven. That is where her focus was.

I think this one is the next one. The name on it is Ethel W___. It was presented to her at the Water Avenue Baptist Church in September of 1982. Bob W_____ was Ethel’s first husband, who went to be with the Lord in 1993. The first few pages are filled with dozens of verse references. Two verses are circled and underlined, with the word TITHE next to them.

One is Genesis 28:22:

“And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house, and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”

And again, Malachi 3:8: Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.

This is the last Bible. I know this because there is a bulletin from last week’s sermon stuck in it.

There are more Scripture references. Again, she wrote that Matthew 6:19-21 was her Bible verse.

There’s George W. Bush’s birthday listed—July 6. In 2005, he was 59 years old.

There’s a prayer for Governor Bentley.

There’s a note about the day they bought their Hyundai Accent in 2008, for $6,000. Two years later, they sold it to Tonya for $4000.

There’s the day Ethel met Terry—February 27, 1997, at Hope Baptist Church.

There’s their first date—April 2.

There’s the day they married, three and a half months after their first date, July 19, 1997.

There’s the visitor’s badge for Prattville Baptist Hospital, dated January 9, 2021, the day Terry passed away.

Now, play archeologist with me: what would you deduce from a Bible that not only had verses highlighted, but had prayers for politicians, notes from purchases, when Terry was ordained as a deacon, how much they received for social security and the fact that the check was delivered on the third Wednesday of every month, and the visitor’s badge from the hospital from the day the love of her life passed away?

You would conclude that this was the book the person built her life on. This was the book she turned to in times of happiness and sadness, in times of national political crisis; for financial guidance, for spiritual growth.

You would look at these Bibles that are falling apart as evidence of a life that wasn’t.

Ethel once paid me the greatest compliment I think I’ve ever received from anyone. After a sermon where I went “off script” and just started quoting different passages of Scripture, she came up to me and said, “James, I think you must have the entire Bible memorized.”

Now that I have spent the last couple of days studying Ethel’s Bibles, I realize what high praise that was coming from her. Because she knew her Bible as well as anyone I’ve ever met.

So I’d like to close by speaking again from the heart.

Psalm 116:15 says “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

That always seemed like a strange verse to me. Does the Lord really count the death of any of his saints as precious? And the answer is clearly yes, especially in the case of someone like Ethel B_______. 

She is united again with Terry.

She did not suffer, she did not linger, she did not decline.

She was ready to meet her Savior.

She lived her life storing up treasure in heaven that will never corrupt.

And even though she hated drawing attention to herself, and never wanted anyone to know the things she had done for them, she could not avoid the words of her Savior, which surely came to her this past Thursday:

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.

Day 171: Trouble in the Third (Ecclesiastes 7:3-4)

3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Ecclesiastes 7:3-4

One of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard was from Dr. Eugene Lowry. He was a professor of preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology for over 30 years, and around 1992 preached the spring revival at my alma mater, the Southern Baptist Theological Semnary.

That was a long time ago, but I still remember Dr. Lowry’s sermon, “Trouble in the Third.” I remember it because not only was Lowry a brilliant preacher, he was also a brilliant jazz pianist, and he preached this sermon from the piano.

Lowry talked about how, throughout the Baptist hymnal, there are countless hymns that follow a similar plotline: the first verse establishes the character of God. The second our relationship to Him.

Then, in a significant number of hymns, the third verse introduces trouble, doubt, uncertainty, sorrow, or sadness. Some examples:

  • The third verse of Amazing Grace: Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come…
  • The third verse of “How Great Thou Art:” And when I think that God, His Son not sparing; sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in…
  • Holy, Holy Holy, Verse 3: Holy, Holy Holy, though the darkness hide thee; though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see…
  • Verse 3 of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us…
  • When I Survey The Wondrous Cross: See, from His head, His hands, His feet; Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Gene Lowry played all these, and more, to make his point that so often, there is trouble in the third verse.

And then, the best hymns resolve the trouble in the third stanza with triumph in the fourth stanza. Take the same examples from above, and consider the fourth stanzas:

  • When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun…
  • When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
  • All thy works shall praise thy name in earth, and sky, and sea…
  • His kingdom is forever…

And, my personal favorite, the fourth stanza of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross:”

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The problem in so many churches is that our ministers of music almost always skip the third verse. It’s almost a cliche: “Let’s all stand and sing the first and last stanzas of_________.” We’ve all been in churches like that, haven’t we?

The problem is, if you bypass the trouble in the third, the triumph in the fourth loses much of its impact. It’s hard to really appreciate that “the Lord has promised good to me/ His Word my hope secures” if we haven’t really pondered the “many dangers, toils and snares” through which we have already come.

And this is the brilliance of the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes reads like the third verse of a hymn. And it seems to have been written by someone in the third verse of his life–late middle age, when cynicism sets in, and you wonder what your life has amounted to, and what you will do with the days you have left.

The teacher invites us to ponder the trouble in the third verse. Ecclesiastes tells us that the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. God is a good God. There is nothing better than to enjoy the good gifts He has given us on this earth (Ecclesiastes 2:24). Remember your creator in the days of your youth, because there will come a day, according to the stunning imagery of chapter 12, when:

3 ...the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along,[a] and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 
Ecclesiastes 12:3-7

Like so many old school ministers of music, we’d love to skip Ecclesiastes and go straight to the triumph of the victorious Christian life. But that would be like bypassing Gethsemane and Calvary in order to get to the Empty Tomb. You can’t skip the trouble and go straight to the triumph. There’s trouble in the third verse, but there is triumph just around the corner.

Day 170: Living Under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 1-6)

3 What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
    and hastens to the place where it rises.
Ecclesiastes 1:3-5

I always come to Ecclesiastes in a reading plan with gritted teeth because it’s such a tough read. If you’re new to the Bible, you might be surprised that Ecclesiastes even made the cut. It is a brutally honest, depressing look at the futility of life “under the sun.” (Side note— we get to this part of the reading plan when many of you will be on vacation at the beach. I’ve learned that it’s a nice balance to be LITERALLY “under the sun” while reading Ecclesiastes).

Tara-Leigh gave us the count for how often the term “Vanity of Vanities” shows up in Ecclesiastes— 38 times. But a close second is “Under the sun”— 27 times. It’s a little hard to pin down a precise meaning, but most commentators believe it refers to life lived without God in the equation. Life “under the sun” is life as I see it. Life based on what is observed. And so, yeah. If all I see is all there is, then life is meaningless at best and hopeless at worst.

If Ecclesiastes was all you had of the Bible, you would have a really bleak worldview. Pink Floyd, a band not known for their cheery, optimistic lyrics, actually captured the heart of Ecclesiastes in their classic song, “Time:

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking

Racing around to come up behind you again.

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older

Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.

Dude. If you’re getting quoted by Pink Floyd, you’ve got a pretty bleak worldview.

In Ecclesiastes, you see the sum total of life lived under the sun. It feels like a book Solomon would have written at the end of his life, as a bitter, cynical old man. He has looked for meaning through hedonism, pleasure, and philosophy. He’s sample the very best that life under the sun has to offer, and it has all fallen woefully short. Ed Young, longtime pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston Texas, summed up the message of Ecclesiastes as, “Been There, Done That, Now What?”

But the whole message of the Bible is that there is more to life than what we see under the sun. Our call as believers is to look “not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient. But the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18).

There is so much more to reality than what can be seen under the sun. As Christians, we have an “above the sun” worldview, because we have an out of this world destination.

Day 169: An Exercise in Praying the Proverbs (Proverbs 29)

Riots in Minneapolis, June 2020

Through the Bible: Proverbs 27-29

This was written on June 27, 2020. This was in the midst of protests over the death of George Floyd.

Every day, I try to read the chapter of Proverbs that matches the date on calendar. Often, it seems like there are striking parallels between stories in the news and what I read in Proverbs. It was like that this morning.

Between George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery; protests and counter protests over reopening the country; looting and violence in the streets; the current threat to pull the plug on Twitter; and the level of dissension and division among Christian brothers and sisters on social media, and the current threat to pull the plug on Twitter, verse after verse from Proverbs 29 jumped out at me.

So when what is in the press matches up with what is in the Proverbs, it is helpful to voice a prayer after each one. Here are just a few of the verses, and the prayers I wrote in my Bible next to them.

8 Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
Proverbs 29:8

Lord, parts of Minneapolis are literally burning today. Anger and rage are at a boiling point. People cry for justice, and when they feel like their cries aren’t heard, violence spills over. So Father, please raise up wise men and women who can turn away wrath.

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11)

Lord, raise up wise leaders who will not give full vent to their spirit, but will quietly hold it back.

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
Proverbs 29:18

Oh God, let there be a prophetic vision for how this can end. Your people have cast off all restraint.

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 29:20

 Father, social media, especially Twitter, makes it so easy to be hasty with words. Please give our leaders wisdom to know how to be wise with the platforms they have. And help me remember that just because a thought comes into my head, that doesn’t mean I have to Tweet it.

“A man’s wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” (Proverbs 29:22)

God, when we are given to anger, we cause sin. Not just in ourselves, but in everyone who reads our posts or retweets our rants. Please keep our leaders and public figures from stirring up strife with their anger. And Lord, let me not merely point fingers at our public leaders. Let me not be given to anger.

Day 167: Nowhere God Isn’t (1 Kings 9; 2 Chronicles 8)

“Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the city of David to the house that he had built for her, for he said, “My wife shall not live in the house of David king of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy.””
‭‭2 Chronicles‬ ‭8:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I was a high schooler in the 80’s, and then a youth minister in the 90’s, when the Christian subculture really started to take root. We talked a lot about the difference between the sacred and the secular. There was Christian music; which was appropriate to play on the bus on the way to youth camp, and then there was secular music, which was what you listened to on the way to football games.

There were Christian T-shirts, and if you wore them it helped your witness. But if you were at a party on the weekend and were wearing a Christian t-shirt, that hurt your witness.

There were Christian bumper stickers and chrome “Jesus” fish you could put on the back of the car. They were meant to let everyone know you were a Christian, but they were also supposed to remind you to act like a Christian, even when you were stuck in traffic.

You could honk, but only if you loved Jesus.

Of course, teenagers are great at finding loopholes. If you wanted to drink at a party, you just made sure you left your WWJD bracelet at home. If you were in your car with the Jesus fish on the bumper, you would only cuss out other drivers if your windows were rolled up. If you went to a raunchy movie, you tucked your cross necklace into your shirt, and you made sure the shirt you were wearing wasn’t from last summer’s youth camp.

We aren’t kids in the youth group anymore, but we still draw lines between the secular and the sacred. So it’s pretty easy to see what Solomon is doing when he builds a separate house for his Egyptian wife. He seems to be saying, “She’s part of my secular life. It’s fine to have her, as long as I keep her separate from my sacred life.

Here’s the problem: if you are a follower of Jesus, there is no part of your life that isn’t sacred. There is nowhere God isn’t.

See, we tend to look at our life like a waffle. We divide it up into compartments, labeled “church self;” “work self,” “social media self,” and so on. And we treat the involvement of God in our lives like maple syrup that we can pour into a few squares of our waffle and leave the others untouched.

But our lives before God aren’t waffles. They are pancakes, and the Holy Spirit has to be poured over every part of our lives; soaking the top and running down and in between every layer. There should not be any part of our lives that God isn’t involved in. Compartmentalizing is incompatible with a Spirit-filled life.

There is nowhere God isn’t. Solomon thought he would be okay if he just kept his pagan wife away from God’s temple. He forgot his own prayer of dedication:

“Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭8:27 ESV‬‬

Centuries later, Stephen would remind his audience of the same thing:

“the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭7:48-49‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Beloved, we are the temple of God. Wherever we go, God is. There is no division between the sacred and the secular. The T-shirt you wear isn’t what bears the image of God. You do.

Day 164: Faithfulness to All Generations (1Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5)

“and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”
‭‭2 Chronicles‬ ‭5:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

If you’ve been keeping up with this Bible reading plan since the beginning, a detail in today’s reading may have sounded familiar. When the priests begin singing about how God’s steadfast love endures forever, the glory of the Lord is so overwhelming that they can’t even perform their duties.

The same thing happened when Moses completed the Tabernacle over 500 years before:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭40:34-35‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Hebrew word for “glory” is kavod, and it means weight or heaviness. (See Day 043: The Weight of Glory).

There had been centuries of ups and downs for God’s people between Moses and Solomon. But God’s character had not changed. It still had the power to overwhelm, to stun, to fill the place with a holiness that could be felt. In spite of 40 years in the desert, 400 years of decline under the judges, and two generations of a mixed-bag experiment with monarchy under Saul and David, God was faithful to manifest His holiness to His people. Solomon noted this in his prayer of dedication:

““Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭8:56‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Beloved, as we continue through this reading plan, you’ll see that what was true for the 500 years between Moses and Solomon will be true for the 900 years between Solomon and Jesus. God was faithful to His people through centuries of poor leadership, the rise and fall of empires, and shifting geopolitical realities. Even in the 400 years of silence between the last word from a prophet and the first words of an angel to the Virgin Mary, God was working behind the scenes to ensure that not one of His good promises would fail.

And so, beloved Bride of Christ, know that the same God who shook the foundations of the temple, the same God who disrupts worship services with His overwhelming holiness, is still working today. Not one of his good promises will fail.

Not a single one.

Day 163: Hear from Heaven, Your Dwelling Place (1 Kings 8)

Through the Bible Reading Plan: 1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) at the Jewish Museum, New York
27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 30 And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. (1 Kings 8:27-30)

From 1 Kings 8:31-49, Solomon presents seven situations in which God’s people would find themselves in need and then turn to God. There are several things these seven situations have in common. First, there’s the inevitability of sin. Each stanza of the prayer begins with “when,” not “if.” The clearest expression of this is verse 46: “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—.” The Bible never shies away from portraying human beings honestly. 

Second, these seven stanzas of Solomon’s prayer show the consequences of sin. Because of sin, Israel would be defeated by her enemies (v. 33); suffer drought (v. 35); as well as famine, blight, locusts, warfare, and disease (v. 37). The Bible never says that every negative thing that happens to us is the result of sin. But it does teach that every sin carries with it negative consequences.

The final stanza prophetically anticipates the time when the people of Israel would be overrun and exiled. This would happen over four hundred years later; first when the Assyrians overthrew the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and then the Babylonians exiled the southern kingdom of Judah in 586. Sin brought consequences, which eventually brought the people to repentance.

Perhaps the most important thing the stanzas of Solomon’s prayer have in common is that each ends with some variation of the phrase “Hear in heaven, your dwelling place” (see verses 30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49). Solomon has faith that God will indeed hear when we call out to Him. But Solomon is also reminding the people that although the Temple is dedicated to the Name of God, God does not live there. Go back to verse 27, where Solomon exclaims, “Even the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less the temple I have built.” These multiple reminders that heaven is God’s dwelling place would ensure the Jews would worship God at the temple, instead of worshiping the temple itself. Furthermore, it would give the Jews tremendous assurance when they were in exile that God was still present with them, even though Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the temple. We have the same assurance today. We don’t have to come to church–make a pilgrimage to Israel—for God to hear our prayers of repentance. He meets us where we are, and He hears.

Solomon’s prayer of blessing praised the character of God. God gives rest to His people, and He is faithful to keep his promises (v. 56). He would be with the people just as He had been with their ancestors (v. 57). This is a promise we can bank on even to today, for the Lord does not change!

Notice that even our ability to be devoted to God comes from God Himself (v. 58). Left to our own devices, we are not able to obey God. But God’s abiding presence with us through the Holy Spirit enables us to live God honoring lives. Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things, remind them of all that Jesus had said, and convict them of sin (John 14:26; 16:8).

Even though the Solomon’s temple is long gone, believers today can be assured that God still hears, and we can still come to Him. We know this because He is in His heaven, and we ourselves are the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19)! 

Day 162: Solomon’s Divided Attention (1 Kings 7, 2 Chronicles 4)

“Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭7:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Tara-Leigh said something in The Bible Recap podcast this morning that opened up a new understanding for me. I had noticed before that it took Solomon nearly twice as long to build his own house as it did the temple. But I had always imagined that he completed the temple and then started the palace.

1 Kings 5:13 tells us that Solomon conscripted 30,000 forced laborers from “all over Israel” (likely non Israelites from the Canaanite people groups). Then verse 14 describes how they were divided:

“And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the draft.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭5:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There is a note in the ESV Study Bible that in the Hebrew, “home” strongly suggests “Solomon’s home”

So, there are a few possibilities here. One is that Solomon could have completed the temple in a third of the time if all his workers had been focused on building God’s house rather than dividing their time between the temple and the palace.

But maybe you are thinking “but the temple was smaller than a Chick Fil A. 30,000 workers would have been stepping all over each other.” Fair enough. In which case, perhaps he could have gotten the work done with about twenty thousand fewer slaves. At least.

All this for a building that Solomon himself was quick to remind people the Lord didn’t actually live in:

““But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭8:27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I love church buildings. I really do. I’m one of those people that visits the Holy Land and gets excited about all the ancient churches. Touring Europe to see all the cathedrals is high on my bucket list. But there are things that are more important than magnificent buildings. One is the focus of the one in charge. Is he single minded on bringing glory to God? Or is he more focused on his own house, as Solomon was?

Second, how are the people doing the building being treated? More important than what they are building for you is what you are building into them.

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