"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Man Who Didn't Have It All

It must have been spectacular.  After centuries of nomadic life, slavery, and more nomadic life, the children of Abraham were living in their own land.  Their king had built a lavish temple to the God who had sustained the nation through every difficulty.  With a long, eloquent prayer, King Solomon sacrificed an abundant number of animals, cementing his fervor and dedication to the LORD.  There was truly a bright future for the nation of Israel!

But only a short time later, God was angry - angry enough to divide the people He had provided for and led through years of hardship and wandering.  Why?  What happened between the nearly-idyllic dedication of the temple to this catastrophic ripping apart of God's chosen people?

Solomon had it all going for him.  He was the heir of a godly king of a country blessed by God.  He built an impressive temple for God and sacrificed great numbers of animals, as the Israelites were supposed to do.  His father, King David, is often referred to as a "man after God's own heart," but Solomon is not remembered that way.  Instead we read:

"Now King Solomon loved many foreign 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, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 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..." (1 Kings 11:1-5).

Did you catch that?  Solomon's "heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God."  As God had told Samuel when Solomon's father was crowned king, "'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature...For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart'" (1 Samuel 16:7).  And Solomon's heart had a problem.

Here was a man who had it all.  Or so it seemed.  As we read the story of Solomon, it's hard to imagine a man with so much potential or a story with so much disappointment.  Imagine having so much silver that it was considered worthless (1 Kings 10:21) and welcoming visiting world leaders who simply came to hear his wisdom (1 Kings 10:24).

But in the end, it didn't last.  The kingdom who had welcomed their second king with fanfare and pomp rejected their third, Solomon's son, Rehoboam.  The great nation of Israel was ripped in two, with two tribes remaining loyal to Rehoboam and ten tribes seceding from the country.  Eventually, the ten northern tribes would be carried to captivity and disappear.

Israel would never again have that kind of wealth, that kind of international recognition.

It was just as God told Solomon it would happen.  Before Rehoboam even came to the throne, while Solomon still reigned in Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob warned Solomon: "'Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you...I will tear it out of the hand of your son'" (1 Kings 11:11-12).

The close relationship David enjoyed with his God did not transfer to his son.  Solomon was visited more than once by God, and he enjoyed blessings we can't even fathom today.  But his heart didn't follow God like his father's had.

So maybe Solomon never did have it all.  How could earthly treasure ever compare to walking with God?  "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).

Image courtesy of Photokanok / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ours to Fight: A Review of "Unplanned"

When Abby Johnson left her job in late 2009, she made national headlines.  That may be unusual for most professions, but not for the director position of a Planned Parenthood facility.

Once a stalwart champion of choice, the director of the Planned Parenthood facility in Bryan, Texas, left her side of the "fence" to join the pro-life team who had witnessed to her - and others - for years.  Shocking onlookers on all sides of the debate, the former director has become a well-known advocate for the unborn.

Abby Johnson tells her story in her book, Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line, where she recounts her journey from idealistic and impressionable college student to trusted and tenderhearted Planned Parenthood staff member, with the climax of her eye-opening witness of a live abortion.  Her story travels a long road of pain, guilt, and a sincere desire to help those in need.  In fact, you may be surprised that Johnson's first concern as a Planned Parenthood worker was to be a help and supporter for women in need.

Eventually, as the title of the book hints, Johnson does a complete about-face.  One day she was called in to help with an abortion - something she had never been asked to do before.  As she watched the graphic abortion literally take place before her eyes, she realized the truth of something that many had tried to tell her before: abortion is a death.

"I closed my office door behind me, something I rarely did.  Then I lowered myself into my chair and just sat there, not really focusing on anything.  Just staring.  I wasn't crying.  I simply felt the enormity of the moment.  I found it hard to get a deep breath.  I'd just participated in a death.  A death.  Not a medical procedure.  Not a surgical solution to a life problem.  Not the valiant step of a woman exercising her right to make medical choices about her own body.  The death of a helpless baby...tucked securely inside a womb...with no one to speak on his or her behalf..." (Johnson, p. 124)

Sometimes we can have much to learn from the stories that God has written for others.  With Unplanned, we get to walk into a Planned Parenthood facility and see how many volunteers and staff really think and feel about their jobs.  We see how the local pro-life group's efforts affected the clients, volunteers, and staff of one clinic, and how some pro-life methods are more effective than others.

The story recounted in Unplanned brings a rare find to the pro-life/pro-choice issue: a view from many sides of the debate.  Johnson has experienced abortion from the standpoint of a mother in crisis, the perspective of a Planned Parenthood volunteer, staff member, and director, and now the outlook of a defender of life.  For those of us who most often have spent time on only one angle of the debate, this viewpoint is invaluable.

"The timing of all these factors...had to be more than coincidence," Johnson concludes (Johnson, p. 140).  More than anything else, Abby Johnson's story demonstrates that God's light and truth can permeate any obstacle, be it a stony heart or a Planned Parenthood wall.  No matter how strategized or valiant our efforts are, the ultimate plan and victory belong to God alone.  May we remember that the pro-life battle is ours to fight, but God's to win.