Truth That Surpasses the Legend

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 10.1-7
1 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. 2 Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 3 Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, 5 the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed. 
6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.

Matthew 12.42
42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

Reflection: Truth That Surpasses the Legend
By John Tillman

Solomon, with no enemies of consequence, settled in the peace established by his father, had great opportunity, great wealth, and was blessed with great wisdom. Using these gifts, he pursued God through the building of the temple. He also pursued answers to life’s great questions, as cataloged in Ecclesiastes.

Solomon, like many leaders, eventually fell into corruption, however, for a time, he was a great influence on the world. He was a legend in his own time. There are many legends of ruthless, rich, and powerful kings. Solomon’s legend, in contrast, was about “his relationship with the Lord.” 

The Queen of Sheba came to evaluate that legend. Like any noble visitor, the queen carried expensive gifts, but the most precious cargo to her was an exacting examination of puzzles and riddles. A doubter, she debated with Solomon, attended banquets, and observed his worship at the Temple.

It is likely that people we know have big and difficult questions about faith. We may feel queasy about people’s questions. We aren’t Solomon’s equal in any realm, much less that of wisdom. What if we don’t know the answers?

We don’t need to fear questions, even if we don’t know the answers. Someone greater than Solomon is here with us—Jesus.

Every time Jesus mentions Solomon, it’s to point out something greater than Solomon. A flower’s glamour exceeds Solomon’s robes and the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching exceeds that of Solomon.

We may not be as widely known as Solomon, as wealthy, or as wise. But followers of Christ have some commonalities with Solomon. Because of Christ, we are settled at peace with God the Father. We have no enemies of consequence who can break through his protection. We are blessed through the Holy Spirit with the wealth and wisdom of Christ. His mind, his love, and his wisdom are accessible to us. Using these gifts we can pursue God, serving and worshiping him in the temple of our bodies and that of the universal church. We also can proclaim that answers to life’s great questions are found through Christ in the Bible.

Accept unbelievers’ questions as precious gifts. When they express doubts, honor and respect their vulnerability. Humbly admit your own doubts or ignorance. Speak of Jesus—encourage them to seek him. If doubters interrogate Jesus with the same spirit as the Queen of the South did Solomon, the truth discovered will surpass the legend.

From John: A ministry I have become familiar with in the past couple of years that welcomes doubters and their questions as precious gifts is called Alpha. During the pandemic (when we had to do them on Zoom) I helped with launching the first Alpha courses at the church I attend and our church is still hosting them in person and now off-site in the community with great success. If you are in the DFW area, check out my church’s Alpha and if not, find one near you to attend and invite your doubtful friends to attend with you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 108-3-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings*
Ezekiel 7(Listen 4:32)
Romans 10(Listen 3:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 8(Listen 3:21)Romans 11(Listen 5:23)
Ezekiel 9(Listen 2:05)Romans 12(Listen 2:58)

*We have diverted into 1 Kings and Ephesians for this week. Devotionals on our daily readings will continue next week.

Read more about Solomon’s Folly
None of us are Solomon but…Any of us can apply a God-given skill, like wisdom, in a foolish and sinful way.

Read more about God of the Weak and Doubtful
You who doubt… He calls. He loves. He holds out his hand, and trusts the gospel, to all of us doubters.

Hear Us from Heaven

Readers’ Choice Month:
Thank you for sending your selections of meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. We have a few extra Readers’ Choice posts we will drop into this week and next. Remember that you don’t have to wait to send a Readers’ Choice. You can submit them all year long simply by replying back to our emails or filling out the form found at this link.

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 8:49-50
49 …then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 50 And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy…

Reflection: Hear Us from Heaven
By Erin Newton

Upon the dedication of the Temple, the presence of God fills the Holy Place like a cloud. The cloud is so magnificent that the priests move away and can no longer do their jobs. With the manifestation of God in the Temple, Solomon begins to pray for God’s grace upon the people.

The prayer of Solomon begins with the adoration of God. He praises his superiority and supremacy. Solomon marvels at the magnitude of God. But overall, the recurring message in the prayer is the plea for mercy. He stands between God and the people and falls to his knees, knowing that only by mercy can they live.

Within this 30-verse prayer, the phrase “hear from heaven” (or phrases similar) occurs 13 times. Even seeing the cloud, a visible manifestation of God’s presence, Solomon wanted to plead with God to hear him.

The design of the Temple that Solomon built had many features common to temples in the ancient Near East. There were distinct differences but nothing more distinct than the absence of images of the deity. God had already declared to Moses that they were to never make images of him. They worshiped the invisible God.

The command to follow and rely on God, forever unseen, was a huge act of faith. The people struggled with knowing that God was working when there were no outward signs. Psalm 77 echoes this sentiment, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” Even the miraculous parting of the Red Sea is couched in the idea of hidden footprints.

Solomon prays over and over that in all sorts of situations God would be merciful and hear the pleas from heaven. Each scenario begins with a crisis, followed by a call to repentance, a plea for a listening ear, and a resolution to live righteously.

This prayer is as apt today as it was 3000 years ago. We have the Holy Spirit who brings the presence of God, not just into our midst, but within our being. But even with this constant presence, we plead with God to hear us. We need him to hear or we will be left in our crises.

One day our faith will be made sight. One day we will see our Lord face to face. For now, we pray to the invisible God and know that he is listening.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings*
Ezekiel 5 (Listen 3:28)
Romans 8 (Listen 6:22)

*We have diverted into 1 Kings and Ephesians for this week. Devotionals on our daily readings will continue next week.

Read more about The Mountain of the Lord
Jesus is the mountain, the Temple, that is exalted over all other gods, rulers, and authorities.

Read more about The House God Desires
When we make room for God in our hearts and lives, he will enter.
And when our lives are over, we will awake in the house of God.

Neither Despair Nor Nostalgia

Readers’ Choice Month:
Thank you for sending your selections of meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. We have a few extra Readers’ Choice posts we will drop into this week and next. Remember that you don’t have to wait to send a Readers’ Choice. You can submit them all year long simply by replying back to our emails or filling out the form found at this link.

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 6.11-13
11 The word of the Lord came to Solomon: 12 “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. 13 And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”

Reflection: Neither Despair Nor Nostalgia
By John Tillman

Covenants have at least two participants. Husbands and wives make covenants of love, support, and faithfulness. Business partnerships are covenants of capital, intellectual property, and labor. Governments (even non-democratic ones) are philosophically based on a sacred covenant that leaders will protect and provide for the people and the people will support the needs of the government as it does so.

In many ways, Solomon’s era was the golden age of Israel’s covenant with God, but the roots of unfaithfulness are also visible. In golden ages, we often find excesses that will bankrupt the future. Solomon instituted forced labor and was consumed by pleasures of wealth, sex, and power. Solomon built beautiful buildings but failed to build a beautiful community. He raised a glorious Temple but raised a spoiled and foolish son who caused a civil war. (1 Kings 12.13-17)

Like Solomon, we have sacred work to do in our world. Like him, our efforts are often incomplete and imperfect. We see this in the broken covenants of marriage, business, and, especially government. When struggling for the reins of power, leaders will harm anyone if they score some political points. No one is sacred—not families fleeing communism, children hiding from gunmen, unborn babies, or victims of sexual assaults.

Frustration with the present can birth longings for a golden age or despair for the future. We think, “if only things could be like they were.” The writer of Kings almost certainly held some nostalgia for Solomon’s Temple. Jesus’ disciples were also impressed with its eventual replacement, built by the wicked king, Herod. (Matthew 24.1-2) We easily get lost in the grandeur of the descriptions of the temple, the “greatness” of the past, impressive (if wicked) kings, or imagining what we might build for God. 

Rather than despair or nostalgia, let us focus on faithfulness in the present. Don’t get lost in the grandeur of the past or dreams of future glory. Opulence, craftsmanship, and “greatness” don’t impress God. God says, “As for this temple you are building…” then pointedly ignores the sculptures, gold, and cedar. Obedience and faithfulness are what God seeks.

Regardless of corporate unfaithfulness, the faithful remnant will see God’s covenant fulfilled. Abusive governments or corrupted Temples may fall but the promise made to Solomon is still alive in Christ. God will tabernacle with his remnant, even in exile. He will not abandon his people.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and make melody. — Psalm 108.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings*
Ezekiel 3 (Listen 4:41)
Romans 6 (Listen 3:28)

*We have diverted into 1 Kings and Ephesians for this week. Devotionals on our daily readings will continue next week.

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Of Temples and Gardens—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on October 4, 2021, based on 1 Kings 7.51
It was selected by reader, Lucy from Texas: 
“I was singing ‘In The Garden’ throughout this devotional. I had not realized how many of the scenes mentioned took place in a garden. It was a reminder to me that I need more time away from television and more time ‘in the garden alone’ listening to God”

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 7.51
51 When all the work King Solomon had done for the temple of the Lord was finished, he brought in the things his father David had dedicated—the silver and gold and the furnishings—and he placed them in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple.

Reflection: Of Temples and Gardens—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Gardens are places where nature is maximized and brought to greater, more ordered, and more beautiful potential.

Gardens and parks are places to meet with God. They are places of planting and of sacrifice. The Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, and other biblical Temples mimic and recreate the imagery of Eden’s garden. The Temple was a structure of worship, a physical liturgy that, when followed, allowed the worshiper to return to the relationship of the garden and walk with God.

The theme of gardens runs strongly throughout the scriptures.

Humanity first dwelt with God in a garden, maintaining and co-managing the garden with God. When that relationship was fractured by sin, we found ourselves excluded from the garden, unworthy to tend it or eat its fruits. The first sacrifice happened in the garden when God killed a creature to clothe humanity, covering our nakedness.

Noah began reestablishing the post-flood world by planting a vineyard, a specialized garden. In the psalms and prophets, God referred to Israel as his garden, his vineyard. Jesus amplified this imagery in his most direct (and offensive) parable against the religious leaders. He cast them as the unworthy tenants of God’s vineyard who would be cast out and killed by God the landowner.
The first drops of Christ’s propitiating blood fell in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Lamb of God began to bleed there amongst the wooded garden—the first pressing of the salvific work to come.

Jesus cared deeply about the Temple (risking death by cleansing it) yet he told the woman at Sychar that soon, it would not matter whether she worshiped on her own mountain or in Jerusalem.

That time is now. We worship not in golden colonnades, with bronze basins of water, or the blood of animals. We worship, if we do so correctly, in spirit and in truth. There is a reason we use “parks” as a metaphor. We desire to walk with God in a “garden,” a “temple” of daily disciplines.

What does the garden of your worship look like? What are you planting in your garden, with faith that God will cause gospel seeds to grow?

What is your daily liturgy? What value have you placed in your temple that reminds you to value your relationship with God? How are you decorating your worship to make it attractive and remind you of God’s blessing?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
How sweet are your words to my taste! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth. — Psalm 119.103

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 40(Listen 3:50)
1 Corinthians 16 (Listen 1- 2:54)

Read more

Read more about Seeking After a Seeking God
He will meet with us in a corrupted Temple, as he met with Isaiah.
He will meet with us in a corrupted land, as he met with the woman at the well in Sychar.

Readers’ Choice is Here!
There’s still room for your favorite post from the last 12 months. Tell us about it and we will repost it in September.

Praying for Rain

Scripture Focus: James 5.17-20
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

1 Kings 18.42b-45a
42 …Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 
43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. 
“There is nothing there,” he said. 
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” 
44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” 
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” 
45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling…

Reflection: Praying for Rain
By John Tillman

Early last week, our area got rain after 67 long, hot days. Social media feeds overflowed with pictures and videos of people outside, standing in the rain, playing in their driveways, yards, and streets. The joy was tangible.

Relief from a hotter than normal summer was only one part of it. Practical concerns about water levels were not front of mind. The joy came from a recognition that rain is a blessing.

James connected the story of Elijah praying for rain to bringing back to the faith those who wandered from the truth.

Prior to praying for rain to fall, Elijah had prayed for fire. He was confronting Israel for wandering and wavering between two opinions—worshiping Baal or Yahweh. He challenged them to return to God and when they did, rain returned to the land after a long drought.

James also connected rain to blessings of growth—of crops coming up from the earth. Crops and harvest are gospel language. Metaphors of seed and planting and growth sprang up frequently in Jesus’ teaching. After speaking to the Samaritan woman and describing himself as bringing living water, Jesus told the disciples the fields were ripe for harvest. (John 4.35-39) Not just one woman, but an entire town turned to God.

Before the resurrection, James was among those brothers of Jesus who rejected him, (John 7.5) were offended by him (Mark 6.3), and thought him to be insane. (Mark 3.21) Jesus, after his resurrection, poured out the rain of living water which grew faith even in the hardened heart of his brother, James.

Many of us know of and pray for those who have rejected Jesus or wandered from the truth. We know offended and doubtful people like James. We know questioning people like the woman at the well. Our family members and friends need to feel the blessed rain of God’s grace, and we do too. For in the rain, Elijah was also rejuvenated. (1 Kings 18.46) And as James would testify, even the obstinate can be won over through the winsome winds of the Holy Spirit.

Elijah and James encourage us to keep planting seeds of truth in a drought and pray for rain.  Watch for clouds, even small ones, that show that God’s Spirit is moving and working. (1 Kings 18.43-44) When the rains come, they will be a refreshment for your spirit, even as they bring life to the seeds of the gospel you plant in faith now.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture; we will give you thanks forever and show forth your praise from age to age. — Psalm 79.13

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 9(Listen -4:38)
James 5(Listen – 3:01)

Read more about The Blandness of Hell
In Heaven, we are drawn closer to God…Hell is a place of self-exile…When Sartre said “Hell is other people,” he was too broad. Hell is our self alone.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
We need to know your favorite posts from the past 12 months. Even if all you have to say is, “It blessed me,” share it with us and we’ll share it with others.