When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,”you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (NRSV)
St. Paul wrote, “all things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.”
In today’s chapter, Moses predicts that the Hebrews would one day wish to appoint a king over them as all of the other peoples around them had done. He makes it clear that having a king was not a wrong thing, but goes on to lay down some crucial boundaries for that person. He would have to be subject to God’s law like everyone else. He would need to constantly be reminded of God’s law so he didn’t forget it. He would need to be humble and not be considered better than the lowliest of his subjects.
A few books and a few centuries later, the people would do exactly as Moses predicted as chronicled in the book of 1 Samuel. The people demanded a king and Samuel capitulates but reminds the people that while it was permissible for them to do so, it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. And, it would come back to haunt them.
I’m reminded this morning that there are many times in life when we may make perfectly permissible choices for ourselves that will come back to haunt us. We can make decisions that are not wrong, but are not necessarily wise either. We may end up regretting those decisions and living through the painful consequences they bring into our lives.
As I continue to progress in my life journey, I pray that I can be increasingly wise to make the choices and decisions that are good and beneficial for me and my loved ones in the long run rather than those that are permissible and simply feel desirable in the moment.
I remember watching a press conference on television many years ago. The press were gathered around the podium of the official in a huddled mass. Cameras were clicking and whirring. There was a din of activity in the room as they pushed in around the speaker. Bright lights blazed in his eyes and a gaggle of people pressed in on the man from behind as well as in front.
A reporter fired a question at him. There was silence as the speaker stood and looked down at the podium. Seconds passed. Murmurs rose among the press. Cameras clicked as the speaker said nothing, but continued to look down with furrowed brow. You could feel the sense of curiosity in the room. It became almost a panic. What was wrong? What was happening? Why wasn’t he saying anything? The reporter fired another question at the official who immediately held up his hand and interrupted the reporter.
“Give me just a moment, please. I’m thinking about your question and I want to respond to it appropriately, but I find it better to think about what I’m going to say before I open my mouth.”
I’ve never seen anyone in a press conference say or do anything like that before. It stuck in my memory and I’ve never forgotten it. Here was a wise man who was not going to be bullied by the pressure of the moment and a chaotic press corp rifling questions at him. He understood Solomon’s words.
A mentor of mine used to consistently pray this prayer: “Lord, help me to know when to speak, and when to be silent.” I find myself repeating it often in my own whispered plea. When caught off guard it is foolish to speak without thinking. Better to say nothing than to say something foolish that will haunt you ever after.
Their hair is gray, but they don’t realize they’re old and weak. Hosea 7:9b (NLT)
Earlier this summer I went waterskiing for the first time in several years. I grew up on waterskis like a fish in water. For me, waterskiing has always been like riding a bike. No big deal. Actually, the skiing part wasn’t a big deal, but the wiping out was. A separated rib and badly bruised and twisted knee had me limping into the doctors office a few days later.
My doctor has been my doctor since I was a kid. He knows me well. The first time I saw him he was fresh out of medical school and he had to pull about a three inch sliver from a wooden skateboard out of my twelve year-old thigh. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about him is that he doesn’t mince words and he gives it to you straight. Upon entering the exam room, my chart and explanation of what happened in hand, he took one look at me and exclaimed, “What the hell were you thinking?”
As much as I hate to admit it. I can’t waterski like I was a 16 year old. I’m 30 years past that. My body doesn’t absorb the punishment of hitting the water at 30 miles per hour as it used to do. While I’m ready and willing to be very active in my over the hill years, I don’t want to be delusional and foolish.
As I walk life’s journey and observe those around me, I often see people who are delusional, even if it’s in a relatively harmless and innocent way. As I volunteer in the theatre I see people who are convinced they should get a role for which they aren’t right, sometimes becoming enraged when they don’t get it. At church I see individuals who think they have certain spiritual gifts (or wish they did) and refuse to admit that they don’t to everyones’ detriment.
Today, I’m thinking about the fact that God’s Message tells us to be “sober minded.” To me that means being realistic, clear headed, and owning up to the truth that is staring you right in the face. I’m not going to get the role of Romeo. While I love to sing and play music, I’m not a gifted musician. Though there are many ways for me to be recreationally active, my best waterskiing days are behind me.
I never planned to be a businessman.
I never planned to live in Pella, Iowa.
I never planned to be divorced, nor remarried.
I never planned to build a place on a lake (I dreamed about it, but I never planned on it).
I never planned to write a blog.
I never planned to…
I never planned to…
I never planned to….
Looking back, I can see so many places where my plans for the path my life would take and the actual steps of my path diverged. As I examine the past I can clearly recognize poor choices, sinful acts, wise moves and divine interventions at specific points in time. What becomes impossible for me to clearly differentiate are the consequences of will from God’s eternal purposes for me, for they weave together into one road that has brought me to this place on this day. All I am left with is the determination of what I will do with this day. At this moment, standing at this place on life’s path, whom will I serve and what will my next step be?
God, help me this day make wise choices with my every action I take, with every word that comes out of my mouth, and every meditation of my heart.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes. Proverbs 1:31 (NLT)
It is said that life is wonderful teacher, and so I’ve found it to be true. Over the holidays, Wendy and I have talked a lot about children and parenting. The holidays are filled with gatherings of family and friends, so it has been interesting to interact with and observe children and parents in various family systems. Our girls are now out of the nest and making their way on their own respective paths just as many of our friends are just setting out on their parenting journey. We’ve found ourselves chatting about lessons learned and observations the two of us have made.
I find it interesting in today’s chapter that Wisdom shouts out and calls us to follow and seek her out. She does not come running after us. She does not rescue us from our foolishness. In the same manner, the Prodigal’s father neither forbid his foolish son to leave home, nor did he journey to the distant land to find and rescue him. I have often observed parents who try so hard to protect their children from every mistake and every one of life’s ills by suffocating them with controlling rules and regulations. Home is Gitmo. Assuming the worst of both the child and of life, they try to isolate and grip their children tightly.
The problem is that I’ve found children to be both slippery and squirmy. When you try to clamp your hand tightly around something slippery it usually shoots out somewhere you didn’t intend.
And so, Wendy and found ourselves discussing both extremes of controlling and permissive parenting. Wendy nailed it when she said that the balance between the two was “reasonable” parenting that gave wise and necessary guidance and discipline without tipping over into unreasonable control. Easier said than done, but in today’s chapter I find Wisdom striking a similar balance. She shows the way, provides the road map and calls us all to follow. If we choose to listen we experience the blessing of having listened and obeyed. If we choose not to listen, well then life and the consequences of our own choices becomes a wonderful teacher.
As Solomon grew older, his wives beguiled him with their alien gods and he became unfaithful—he didn't stay true to his God as his father David had done. 1 Kings 11:4 (MSG)
I've watched many people as they grow older. I've watched certain individuals as their relationship with God grew deeper and more meaningful with each stretch of the journey. I witnessed them becoming more loving, more compassionate, more transparent, and increasingly grateful.
The other day my daughter spoke of a friend who was concerned with what she was witnessing in her parents. Children finally grown, the nest empty, her parents appeared to be drawing away from the things of God. I have, sadly, witnessed similar situations. Like Solomon, the further along in the journey the more alienated and distant they grew from God.
While my relationship with God has certainly changed with time, I can attest it has only gotten deeper, more genuine, and more pure. I often think of one of my wife's favorite phrases from C.S. Lewis: "further up and further in."
I find Solomon's story to be a tragic one. Wisdom was given and then that wisdom was abandoned.
God, may I be faithful in pressing on in life that I might journey further up and further in to relationship with you. May those around me witness the purification of my faith, the steeling of my hope, and the deepening of my love.