We have been working our way through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome for the past many weeks, but this past week I have been bombarded with a message that has captured my attention. The message has come to me in different ways and almost every day. As a result of my experience this past week, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to share the message with you. Maybe some of you need to hear the message like I’ve needed to hear it.
Some of you have watched the video I uploaded to our website called, “Clayton’s Story.” Clayton McDonald’s family found out that he had leukemia when he was just seven years old. He underwent all kinds of treatment and his leukemia went into remission for awhile. Twelve years later, when Clayton was 19, he was diagnosed with leukemia for the fourth time and doctors said there was nothing more they could do. If you haven’t seen the video you should visit our website and watch it. At the end of the video Clayton is speaking to his high school classmates. He tells them that the doctors can’t do anything more to help him and then he says,
So naturally you get a lot of questions. Questions like, ‘Are you scared?’ ‘Yeah, I’m scared. I’m terrified. But I’m not scared of cancer because I’ve had it most of my life. I know what’s going to happen. I’m not scared to die either because I know where I’m going when I die. I’m scared for everybody else. I’m scared for those who don’t know where they are going when they die. I’m scared for those who I think they know where they are going when they die, but they really don’t. And I’m especially scared for those of you who are distracted by this world. Distracted by school. Distracted by sports. Distracted by boyfriends, girlfriends, iPods, this or that, distracted by anything and everything that Satan can throw in front of them. That is what I’m scared for. I have the luxury of knowing about when I’m going to die and you don’t. You see, I feel sorry for you because you don’t know. So it’s not hard for me to be thankful for everyday things. It’s not hard for me to be thankful for my family and friends when I know that I might not see them tomorrow. It’s not hard for me to be thankful for every breath I have because it has been given to me by God.
Clayton went home to be with the Lord on March 16th of this year, but his words will live on for many years to come. God has used Clayton’s words in my life during this past week. Clayton’s words pierced my soul when I heard them. He said, “I’m especially scared for those of you who are distracted by this world.”
As I have been reading God’s Word this past week it has seemed that words and stories that relate to Clayton’s message have come at me like at a tidal wave. “Stay alert,” “keep your head,” “Do not love the world,” and the list goes on. We are taking a break from our study of Romans this morning so that I share the lesson that the Lord has been teaching me this past week. Maybe, hopefully, some of you will be able to benefit from what I’ve been learning.
The writer of Hebrews urges us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus…” Do you ever find that difficult to do? In my life there are so many distractions trying to catch my attention, seeking to draw my gaze their direction. The real problem is that they are not necessarily “bad” things, though some things that distract can be very destructive. Much of what distractions are not necessarily “bad,” they are just not the “best” thing that I can give myself to in life. I’ve found that it takes the discipline of a world-class athlete to keep my heart and mind fixed on Jesus. Without that discipline I lose my focus.
We are not the first to lose our focus. We are not the first of God’s people to become distracted. As a matter of fact, all throughout God’s Word we see this theme rise up over and over again. Let me give you an example.
The Hebrew slaves who had been freed by God spent forty years wandering in the wilderness before they were allowed to enter into the Promised Land. Before they crossed over God had some instructions for them. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and let’s read together. Moses spoke to the people and said,
14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20 NIV)
God knew that His people would want a king to rule over them one day. God wanted to be their King, but the people would want to be like the nations around them and have a man to rule over them. God is so gracious, so merciful. Instead of letting them find out on their own that their decision would be less than ideal, God gave them specific instructions about what to look for in a king. Let me outline them for you.
• First, they were to let God choose their king.
• Second, their king had to be an Israelite. They weren’t to let a foreigner rule over them.
• Third, the king was not to acquire a great number of horses for himself or send his people back to Egypt to get more horses.
• Fourth, the king must not take many wives for himself or his heart would be led astray.
• Fifth, the king was not to accumulate large amounts of silver or gold.
• Sixth, he was to write for himself a copy of the Law. It was to stay with him, and he was to read it all the days of his life so he might learn to revere the Lord and follow His ways.
Wouldn’t it be great if these qualities were still what we looked for in our governmental leaders? Now, let’s fast forward. Let’s move beyond Saul, Israel’s first king, and David, Israel’s greatest king, and let’s spend our time this morning taking a look at Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. When Solomon became king over Israel he was visited by God. In 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 we can read about that visit. Read along with me.
7 That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” 8 Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. 9 Now, LORD God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (2 Chronicles 1:7-12 NIV)
Solomon was off to a great start wouldn’t you say? How would you have answered God? If God were to come to you tonight and say, “You can have whatever you ask for. What would you like?” What would be your answer? What would be my answer? Solomon asked for wisdom. He knew that the task before him was too much. He knew he didn’t have what it would take for him to lead the people. God knew what Solomon could have asked for. He knew what comes to mind when we are given a blank check. That has to be the reason why God said, “Since…you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, or for a long life.” Fame, fortune, vengeance on those who have hurt us, a longer life—do any of those ring a bell for what we might desire if God gave us a blank check? Solomon didn’t ask for any of these things. Solomon was off to a great start! As a response to Solomon’s request, God told Solomon that He was going to give him wisdom and knowledge so that he could lead the people of Israel, but He would also give him wealth, riches, and honor like no king had ever had.
Solomon was off to a great start, but it is so important for us to remember that starting is not finishing. How we start does not necessarily determine how we will finish. Many start strong, but lose their focus, lose their passion, lose their interest, or lose their determination to stay the course. Isn’t that our problem? How many of us have decided at some point that we are going to make changes in our lives? We set our course and started strong only to find ourselves, a few weeks or months later, right back where we were before we began to make changes? I’ve been there a million times.
As we take a look at Solomon’s life it is not difficult to see that Solomon didn’t finish like he began. Solomon was vulnerable to the same temptations that you and I are vulnerable to and that is why he didn’t stay focused.
If you will remember the Scripture that we read in Deuteronomy 17, we read about the requirements for the king of God’s people. The king was not to acquire a lot of horses or to send his people into Egypt to get more horses, he was not to acquire many wives, and he was not to accumulate a lot of gold and silver. These instructions from God comprise the prohibitions of God for the king. Along with these prohibitions there was one positive command. Did you notice it? The king was to keep God’s Law before him and he was to read it all the days of his life. Isn’t that interesting? Why would God require this of His leader? We don’t have to give our opinions of that question. Just read Deuteronomy 17:19-20.
19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:19-20 NIV)
We have to know, that at some point, Solomon started skipping his “quiet time.” You may wonder why I would make such a statement? Well, let me show you why I’ve arrived at that conclusion. Turn to 2 Chronicles 9 with me. In verses 25 and 28 we read,
25 Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem… 28 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from all other countries. (2 Chronicles 9:25; 28 NIV)
How many horses can a man ride at one time? When I read about all that Solomon accumulated during his reign as king I thought about the TV show, MTV Cribs. Have you ever watched the show that visits the homes of the rich and famous? Most of the folks on the show are superstar athletes, musicians, or actors. If you haven’t seen the show then think back to the older version, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach. MTV is the same show, just younger and more hip. Almost to the episode you will find a young, single, wealthy guy who has a garage the size of car dealership. They will show you three or four or more cars, SUV’s, trucks, motorcycles, etc. that belong to the guy. I’ve watched the show and thought to myself, “How many cars can one man drive at a time?” This was my thought about Solomon this past week, “How can horses can one man ride at a time?” Not only that, but Solomon imported many of the horses from Egypt and other countries to increase his numbers.
The Mishna states that “the king is prohibited to multiply horses for his own satisfaction and aggrandizement; he is permitted to do so, however, for his chariots and horsemen to wage war on his enemies.” There are many who believe that the king wasn’t allowed to gather a great amount of horses even for war because God wanted His people to be dependent on Him for their protection.
Whether Solomon gathered all of those horses for his own pleasure or to assure the safety of the nation, he was going against God’s strict command. Solomon was getting distracted. It wasn’t just horses that were capturing his attention. If you will remember, God said not to acquire great amounts of silver and gold. Let’s turn to 1 Kings 10:14-15.
14 The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, 15 not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land. (1 Kings 10:14-15 NIV)
A “talent” is a weight of measurement that was equivalent to about 75 pounds. We are told that Solomon received 666 talents of God each year. With today’s price of gold at about $930.00, we can do the math and figure out that Solomon received about $44,595,360 worth of gold each year. That doesn’t include all of his wealth because we read in verse 15 that this didn’t include “revenue from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land.”
What did Solomon do with all of that money? Well, he built a temple for the Lord and it took his workers seven years to complete it. He also built a house for himself, a house that took his workers 13 years to complete. We can read about the details of Solomon’s house in 1 King’s 7. Solomon’s house had 45 pillars supporting it. We are told in 1 Kings 7 that Solomon’s house was “100 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high.” A cubit is equivalent to about 1 ½ feet, so Solomon’s house was about 50 yards long, 25 yards wide, and 15 yards, or 45 feet high. Now that would qualify to be on MTV Cribs! Solomon’s house was nicer than the “house” he had built for the Lord. In 1 Kings 10 we find that all of Solomon’s goblet’s were made of gold.
Solomon’s neglect of God’s Word also led to other problems. Isn’t that how it works with distractions? If we don’t “fix our eyes on Jesus” and stay in God’s Word, then other things will most certainly capture our hearts. Solomon’s heart was captured by women along with his pursuit of other things. In 1 Kings 11 we read,
1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 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. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 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. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 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 NIV)
This is truly a tragic story. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. The saddest commentary of all about Solomon’s life is found in verse 4 where we read,
4 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. (1 Kings 11:4 NIV)
Oh, if Solomon could have just finished like he started. If he would have never taken that first step of compromise. If he had not allowed pleasure to replace his passion for God. If he would have kept God’s Word before him day and night then we would have never had to read about his heart being turned away after other gods. We would not have to read that “his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God.”
I had a thought this past week that we all need to consider. If Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, as the Bible says, and he was vulnerable to distractions, where does that leave us? Solomon was not only vulnerable to distractions, but he succumbed, he took the bait, he was led astray, and ended his life with a half-hearted commitment to the Lord. What should Solomon’s story teach us? We are right there with Solomon are we not?
What are the things that distract us? Are they some of the same things that distracted Solomon? Are they some of the same things that God listed that He was glad Solomon didn’t ask for? “Wealth, riches or honor, vengeance on our enemies, or hoping for a long life?” These are some of the things that catch our attention; they distract us from what is truly most important in life. They certainly aren’t an exhaustive list are they?
I was rereading the “Parable of the Sower” this past week. Do you remember the parable? Jesus told a story about a sower who went out to sow seed. Some fell on the path, some fell on rocky soil, some fell among the thorns, and some fell on good soil. Beginning in Matthew 13:18, Jesus told the people the meaning of the story. I won’t read all of Jesus’ explanation, but listen to this:
20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:20-22 NIV)
Now we can add to our list can’t we? Troubles can take our eyes off of God can’t they? Persecution can turn our praise into questions of “Why me?” In verse 22 we read how the Word is “choked” off. “The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” can distract us like crazy. What are the “worries of this life?” That covers a lot of territory doesn’t it? Are you worried about how you will ever get caught up on your bills? Are you worried while you wait to get the tests back from your doctor? Are you worried if your marriage is going to make it? Are you worried about your son or daughter and the destructive decisions they keep making? Are you worried about parents? Their failing health, their instability, decisions they are making that are contrary to God’s will for their lives? Are you worried this morning? Our worries can choke the life out of the vibrancy and passion that God desires for us can’t they?
Jesus also said that the “deceitfulness of wealth” can choke the living Word in our life. It is interesting that the Greek word Jesus uses, that is translated, “deceitfulness” in the NIV means, “Deception or enticement, pleasant illusion, or pleasure.” We could just as easily say, “the enticement or distraction or pleasant illusion of wealth.” You need to hear me clearly at this point. It is not being wealthy that is a sin, but it is how we acquire and use the wealth that God has entrusted to us that is sinful. Look at Solomon’s life. God told him that He was going to bless him with wealth, but I will assure you that God never intended for Solomon to use his wealth to lavish himself with every luxury, to build his house twice as big as the house he built for God. I have heard many of us poor folks say, “Man, if I ever get wealthy I’m going to use my money to bless some folks, to do some good.” You know as well as I do what happens most of the time.
These are all distractions. The remedy for what ails us is the one thing that God instructed the king to do. If we will do as God instructed the king then the distractions of life will not go away, but they will lose much of the power they presently have in our lives. What is it that we need to do to help us avoid the distractions that draw us away from the Lord? That is a great question. Let’s go back to where we began.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. (Dueteronomy 17:18-20 NIV)
We are to stay in God’s Word. The Psalmist said, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105 NIV) In the same Psalm we read, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” I could go on and on sharing with you the things we can learn about the Word of God from the Word of God, from those who have gone before us and found God’s Word to be indispensable for staying focused on God.
Before we leave here this morning I have to ask you, “Are you distracted?” As you look back on this past week has there been something there that has caught your eye, captured your heart, begun to draw you away from the Lord? If that is the case then I want you to know that I am so glad that you are here this morning. Isn’t God’s grace good! He has brought you here this morning to turn you back to Himself. The Psalmist said, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things…” God is willing to answer that prayer for you this morning, if that is your prayer.
Or maybe you are here this morning and if the truth be known, God has never really had your attention at all. It’s not that He has not shown Himself to you, it’s not that He hasn’t blessed you, but you’ve simply gone your own way. You’ve chased whatever caught your attention, whatever you desired. How has it worked out? I bet you have found out that it wasn’t “gold” at all, it was nothing more than “fool’s gold.” I pray that He has your attention now and that you will surrender your heart to Jesus as Lord of your life this morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 24, 2009