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February 2008

February 25, 2008

It’s no secret around here that I love the book of Proverbs and consider it my “home page” in the Bible. I read through Proverbs at least once a year and, whenever I’m not sure what else to read, I turn to it. And while I love Proverbs and envy the wisdom of Solomon I find something really sobering about his life. Whenever I consider Solomon, I am faced with the question of how a man of such great wisdom and discernment could end his life so far from the Lord. How did such a wise man become so foolish? How did such a discerning man stray so far?

I’m far from the only person who has wondered this. Just last week I received an email from a friend and reader of this site who had just finished reading The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He asked a question that went something like this: If Solomon was the most discerning man who ever lived (besides Jesus, of course), and discernment is the application of wisdom, then how do we account for his spiritual digression? How can a truly discerning man be disobedient?” I’ve written about this a little bit in the past but it seemed like a good chance to say something more. How did Solomon, who was so wise and so discerning, end up so far from the Lord?

Solomon’s wisdom is unparalleled by any other human. The Bible tells us that the Queen of Sheba once came to Solomon, having heard of his great wisdom, and “told him all that was on her mind.” There was nothing she asked that he could not answer, for “Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” We know that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men…” In the history of mankind, there was no one like Solomon. He was extraordinarily gifted by God.

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” He was richly blessed, with wealth and power beyond measure. “He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.”

When the Queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s wisdom and gazed at all his wealth, the Bible tells us that there was no more breath in her. She was completely overwhelmed. I have felt the same as I’ve read about his life and have read his proverbs. The man’s wisdom and discernment is clearly unsurpassed (except by Jesus). And yet there is more to the story.

It is always a shock to turn to the tenth chapter of 1 Kings and to read about Solomon’s downfall. It is awful to hear how a man with such wisdom strayed so far from God. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from 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. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” I find the next verse instructive. “For 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.” His wives turned away his heart so that it was not wholly true to the Lord his God. Solomon’s heart was at first divided between women and God, but it soon turned away altogether. He allowed the lust of his heart to overcome and overwhelm his love for God.

This is sobering, is it not? A man with the wisdom of Solomon, a man who had had the Lord appear to him twice and who had heard the Lord directly command him not to turn after other gods, turned away nonetheless. Though a wise man, the Lord told him “you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you.” How could this happen?

Ironically, I believe that we can find the key to Solomon’s downfall in one of his own proverbs. In Proverbs 19:27 we read “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” There are some proverbs that are multi-layered and which require great thought. This is not that kind. That meaning of this one is plain. Those who cease to listen to wise instruction, instruction based on the fear of the Lord, will quickly stray. While we cannot know for certain, I am increasingly convinced that this is what happened to Solomon. While he was young, he was visited by God and was endowed with great wisdom and discernment. When he was only a young man, but still a king, he called out to God in what seems to be a healthy apprehension of the difficulties he would face as king:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

God was pleased with Solomon’s request, replying “I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” Solomon knew his weakness and, in humility, cried out to God and asked for His strength. As a little child cries to his father for help Solomon cried out in dependence on God. God was pleased to hear, pleased to answer, and pleased to give to Solomon far more than he asked. Solomon asked for discernment, but was also given great wisdom, great wealth, and great power. God lavished gifts upon him.

But as Solomon grew older, he began to depend less on God. I believe he began to depend on his own wisdom and to stray ever-further from God’s instruction. Where there was once humble dependence on God, there was now dependence on himself. In so doing, he strayed from words of knowledge, and strayed from God Himself. John Anderson once preached a sermon in which he said, “Erring from the words of knowledge is direct rebellion against the authority of God, whose law binds us to believe whatever he reveals. The language of obstinate error is, I prefer my own wisdom and my own will in such a particular to the wisdom and will of God himself.” Solomon preferred his wisdom to God’s wisdom, his ways to God’s ways. The whole earth once “sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” But I believe Solomon soon allowed his own earthly wisdom to overtake his mind. He ceased hearing instruction and strayed from words of knowledge. He strayed from wisdom. He strayed from God.

Wisdom and discernment, then, are character traits that, like the moon, can wax and wane. They are gifts of God, but gifts that we can throw away. They are gifts that need to be nurtured and maintained. We cannot take them for granted, taking refuge in the fact that we may be wise and discerning right now. We need to continue to strive after them and to seek them. We need to learn from Solomon that even the wisest man today may be the greatest fool tomorrow. We depend on grace, even to sustain our wisdom and discernment.

If Solomon could stray so far from the Lord, I know that I can too. This is a sobering thought. This is a terrifying thought, even. But the solution to avoiding the folly of Solomon is clear. I need to take care that I never cease to hear instruction. I must live with an intense focus on God’s Word, never believing that I have learned enough, never believing that I’ve arrived. I must know that from this day to the day I die, I need to maintain a humble dependence on God. I must trust that His words of instruction will continue to edify and strengthen me, protecting me from straying from the words of knowledge. I will never outgrow my need for His sustaining grace.

February 25, 2008
Monday February 25, 2008 Os Guinness on the Schaeffers
Os Guinness, in an excellent article at Christianity Today, laments Frank Schaeffer’s memoir which is a direct attack on his parents and their faith.
Larry Norman Passes Away
Ray Fowler, in this post and a couple of others, pays tribute to Larry Norman who passed away yesterday.
Text and Context
The Resurgence Text & Context Conference (Driscoll, Mahaney, Piper, etc) will be streamed live beginning this afternoon.
Mike Huckabee on Weekend Update
On Saturday Mike Huckabee paid a rather humorous visit to the set of Saturday Night Live.
February 24, 2008

Red Letter ChristiansThere are some people who will probably read no further than the title of Red Letter Christians, the latest offering from Tony Campolo. The reference to Red Letters will no doubt convince people, even before they read the book, that it is a defense of ignoring the black letters of the Bible (which is to say, most of the Bible) in favor of the red words (the words actually spoken by Jesus). While I, too, am somewhat uncomfortable with the term, it is only fair to allow Campolo to define it before passing judgment!

“A group of us who are speakers and authors and who share an evangelical theology got together and confessed that we have a hard time applying the label [Evangelical] to ourselves anymore. Among those who gathered were Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr and Jim Wallis. They settled on the name “Red Letter Christians” as an alternative to evangelical. “In adopting the name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that Jesus taught.”

February 23, 2008

Next week I have the opportunity to offer both Chuck Colson and Iain Murray. I’d love to get some feedback from the readers here about what I might want to ask them. Read on…

In a couple of months I’ll be attending and writing about the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference this May (it runs from the 27th to the 29th) down in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (can you believe I actually found a direct flight from Toronto to Harrisburg? I wouldn’t have believed it was possible). Though I’ve come to know Steve Burlew quite well (he heads up Banner in North America), I have never attended one of their conferences or visited their headquarters. I am looking forward to getting to know one of the original Reformed ministries! In conjunction with the conference, I’ve been given the opportunity to interview Iain Murray—one of the keynote speakers at that conference. I will be interviewing him next week.

Now Iain Murray is a hero to me. His books have impacted me deeply and have impacted many people I love and respect. I am really looking forward to interviewing him. I have a short list of questions prepared, but would be glad to accept some of yours. If you have something you’d like to ask Iain Murray, let me know and I’ll consider sending it through.

Meanwhile, Chuck Colson is about to embark on a blog tour (sound familiar?) to promote his new book, The Faith (subtitled “What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters”). Because the book was late arriving from the publisher, I haven’t yet had opportunity to read it, and my spot was bumped from day one to day six or seven. I will only be asking him one or two questions, but would like to make them count. I don’t want to toss him a softball, but would like to ask something Interesting and thought-provoking. I’ve got some ideas, but once more would love to receive some ideas. So if something comes to mind, shoot me an email or leave a comment.

February 22, 2008

Occasionally I use a Friday article to take care of a few things that have been on my mind. I’m going to do that today.

A Media Junkie

Joe Carter is a media junkie. You can read about his media obsession right here. He took an inventory of his media consumption and found he reads “one daily newspaper, 12 magazines, and over 300 RSS feeds.” And even then he reads far more magazines than he subscribes to.

I do not subscribe to any newspapers, despite their best efforts to get me to do so. I think newspapers call more often than any other telemarketers trying to get me to subscribe. It must be desperate times. I subscribe to two magazines and intend to let both of them lapse when my subscriptions run out. I read People magazine when I forget to take a book when going to the doctor or for a haircut. I have found that newspapers and magazines are no longer a compelling source of information. I miss the analysis they provide, but see no other reason to subscribe to them anymore. I do, though, subscribe to 100 RSS feeds or so and I do enjoy skimming those headlines looking for nuggets of gold. Some I read for pleasure, some for information and some out of habit.

How do you consume media today? How much do you consume?

Dear America

Dear America. Please stop complaining about everything.

Sincerely,

Tim from Canada

(I mean, seriously, is there a country in the world that is greater than the U.S. but which breeds such discontent among its people?)

Keller, Chopra, Tolle

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is, as predicted, rising up the bestseller charts. It’s currently #6 on the Amazon “Spirituality” chart (and #41 overall), sandwiched between Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. If Oprah hadn’t recently praised Tolle, taking several of his titles far up the charts, Keller would be higher still.

When I was traveling a couple of weeks ago, I was reading Keller’s book and was surprised to see how many people stared at the cover. A couple stopped short to stare at it, though I was on the phone at the time and couldn’t converse with them. But I’m thinking the book is going to be a great conversation starter. There is such a hunger for spirituality in our day and this book may held lead many people to the One they need.

Jesus in Love

As you may know, novelist Anne Rice recently returned to the Catholic Church and subsequently gave up writing about vampires in favor of writing a series of books on the life of Jesus. I just finished reading the second in this series, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. Like any dramatization of the life of Jesus, this one takes liberties and artistic license. It also gets many facts just plain wrong, something I’ll cover in my review next week. But in the meantime, it raised an interesting question.

Much of the story involves the relationship between Jesus, the year before he began his public ministry, and a young woman who wants to be married to Him. Jesus’s family cannot understand why He does not marry and neither does the community around Him. Rice (wrongly, I’m convinced) chooses to portray Jesus as only slowly coming to the realization of His deity, and Jesus is sometimes confused and conflicted by His human desires. He desperately desires to know the intimacy of love, but somehow knows that it is something He will have to forsake because of His unique calling. So this young woman begs Him to love her and He, with great pain, refuses her. This is one of the main plot lines in Rice’s second book.

So what do you think? Did Jesus ever fall in love? Could Jesus have fallen in love? Would His humanity allow Him to feel such things, or would His deity protect Him from a broken heart? Why or why not?

February 22, 2008
Friday February 22, 2008 Tract Sunday - March 9, 2008
Good News Publishers (think Crossway) is trying to get a million tracts given out on March 9 of this year. Click for more information.
Green Bibles
Thomas Nelson Inc’s Bible group is in the beginning stages of discontinuing the use of synthetic covers on their Bible products. The decision makes Thomas Nelson the first Bible publisher to announce a complete transition to eco-friendly Bible production.
Atheists and Moral Values
Can Atheists Believe in Moral Values? The Stand to Reason blog takes this on (though only briefly).
February 21, 2008

This morning we come to the end of the second classic we’ve been reading together. Chapter 14 marks the end of John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. If you are interested in knowing what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Reading Classics Together.

Summary

Today we are at the fourth and final part of the book: directions for the work of mortification.

  1. Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin
  2. This whole work is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it
    1. The Spirit alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the corruption, lust, or sin to be mortified
    2. The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief
    3. The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ
    4. The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power
    5. The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification
    6. In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it has support from the Spirit

Discussion

I know that the purpose of this initiative is not to critique the books we read, but I do have to say that I found this chapter a rather anti-climactic end to the book. The directions for the work itself were brief and several of them received only a sentence or two of explanation. I’m sure this is by the author’s design. Maybe I am just lazy and am looking for a too-simple ABC, 123 kind of format—the “ten easy steps” kind of format that is so popular in publishing today. Instead, these directions for the work of mortification did not seem so easily applicable.

The main point of this chapter is an important one and a good way of summarizing all that Owen has said. This work of mortification of sin is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. And maybe in this way the words in this final chapter really are the best way of ending. Even while we are responsible for joining the Spirit in the work of putting sin to death, and even while God will hold us to account, we depend on His Spirit. Without this reminder, maybe we would be prone to pride as we looked at the sin we had put behind us (such irony! Taking pride in putting sin to death…). Maybe we would forget that it is only with His power that we can do this. And so Owen ends with a final reminder that the Spirit convinces the heart of evil, that the Spirit reveals to us the fullness of Christ, that the Spirit establishes the hope for relief from the work of Christ, that the Spirit brings the cross into our hearts to destroy sin, that the Spirit authors and finishes our sanctification and that, whatever we do to truly and genuinely put sin to death, it is a work that begins and ends with the Spirit.

If I can just hold onto this, knowing that the Spirit is eager to mortify the sin I hold to, and that He is the active agent of change. If I can hold onto this, the book will have a lifelong impact on my faith.

What’s Next?

Now that we’ve come to the end of this book, we’ll take a brief break and then decide which classic we’ll read together next. I’m open to any and all suggestions!

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

February 21, 2008
Thursday February 21, 2008 Fiddling While Rome Burns
David Wells (the theologian, not the pitcher) guest blogs at 9Marks. He writes about the many alternatives to church that are appearing around us.
The Bondage of Guidance
Mark Dever has a wise and pastoral article about the potential bondage of extra-biblical guidance.
20 Facts about the Human Genome
Here are twenty amazing facts about the human genome. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made.
A Review of My Book
At Allen Mickle’s blog is an encouraging review of my book.