The Smartest Man In The Room - Part 1: Choose Wisely
This week I'll be starting a new sermon series entitled, "The Smartest Man in the Room: Lessons from the Life of Solomon." The series draws it's inspiration from the Emmy award winning television show Mad Men, which is nearing it's sixth and final season. Mad Men is set in a Madison Avenue advertising agency in 1960's New York City, which might seem like a stretch as the inspiration for a sermon series on an Old Testament character.
However, when I was reading and studying about Solomon, my imagination kept bringing me back to Mad Men, and to the lead character in the show, Don Draper. Here is a video that describes Don, and gives you a hint at what the show is about:
Don Draper has everything. He's handsome, rich, successful and one of the brightest---if not the brightest "ad man" in the business. He is literally the smartest man in the room, regardless what the room is. But none of that is enough for him. He constantly ruins his relationships, holds people at arms length, is overly self-indulgent when it comes to drinking, smoking and womanizing. He has the "perfect" family, the perfect house and the perfect life, but none of it seems to matter. In the end, he comes to believe that everything is meaningless...
Which sounds a lot like the life of Solomon. Solomon was the son of David. He inherited a throne that had been hard won, and sometimes harder kept. At one time he honored God, and God honored him. He was the wisest of all men in his day, but nothing satisfied him. He indulged his appetites, strayed from his faith and eventually finds himself telling the world in Scriptures that are preserved for generations to come just how meaningless all of his pursuits were.
And the ironic thing is that he knew better...
Isn't that the problem with most bad decisions? They most always end up with someone saying, "I knew better..."
I had one of those moments where I made a bad choice and things went horribly wrong---and I knew better.
I was driving to South Carolina last year and discovered that I was making excellent time, which was a good thing because I was running a bit behind schedule to get to a conference I was attending. Have you ever been in one of those driving zones where you feel like you could drive all day and night and never get tired? You are like the Energizer Bunny of Driving in that moment. The Cal Ripken of Cross Country Travel... That's how I felt.
The only problem was I was also guzzling coffee and assorted beverages whilst making this excellent time, and shrugged off the urge to make a pit stop when I got gas, and when I was near some sort of civilization, a.k.a. places that have gas stations and/or rest stops. Sadly for me, the urge to make a pit stop became slightly more than urge when I was literally in the middle of no where. I passed a sign that said "Next Rest Area: 54 miles." I saw another sign that said, "Next Exit 53 miles." I wondered aloud about the wisdom of placing both a rest area and another kind of exit so close together. In fact I did more than wonder aloud. I cursed the name of the person who didn't split the difference and stick the rest area just a little further my way down the dang road.
It was a critical moment. I had a choice to make then. I could either pull off to the side of the road and run the risk of getting into trouble for indecent-ness... or there was another alternative. I glanced down at an empty Powerade bottle---one that had been full of Powerade just a little bit earlier. Neither one of these choices was a good one.
Which was when I realized that if I had made a better choice earlier, I wouldn't be saddled with two poor choices in that moment. And I also realized that I knew better. I had violated the age old rule your mom and dad established on car road trips. Even if you don't have to go---you need to go when there's a stop. Yup. That would have been a good rule to follow.
We've all been there before---well maybe not there, but in a similar kind of situation where we realize we know better, but we can't seem to make the right choice... and then regret it.
You know what I'm saying... It's that moment when we reach for that last cookie---even though we've already had three of them. We know better than to do that, but we do it anyway. Or when we hit the snooze button instead of getting up on time, which throws our whole morning off just so we could sleep four extra minutes---We know better, but we do it anyway. Or we give in and head to the Kohl's for that big sale because we just can't pass up an opportunity to get 40% off and spend that $10 in Kohl's Kash that's been burning a hole in your pocket. We know better, but we do it anyway.
Sometimes it's more serious. Like when we have one more drink, even though we know it might lead to things that aren't good for anyone... Or when we have one more flirtatious conversation with that married man, who keeps dropping hints that he wants to be more than friends... Or we make one more visit to that one website we frequent...
We know better, but we do it anyway.
Here'e the thing... The choice to choose wisely is a choice you know to choose... so choose it. I know. That sounds kind of pointed, and when we put it that way, it seems pretty simple to just do what's right. Life is not always simple, but the choice to do what we know to be right absolutely is.
So if we know what to choose in order to choose wisely----why don't we do it?
We get a clue as to why this is the case in the story of Solomon. He's kind of like a test case for those of us who think we have it all figured out, and then discover one day that we didn't know a thing.
Solomon was a man who knew better, who had serious wisdom, and still he made bad choices... but it wasn't that way at first.
In 1 Kings 2:1-4 we read something very interesting: David's Charge to Solomon. Here's what David said to Solomon before he died:
“So be strong, act like a man, 3 and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go 4 and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’Solomon must have been listening because a bit later in 1 Kings 3 he finds himself deep in a dream where God appears to him and offers to give him anything his heart desires. Solomon declares the following in response:
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”Solomon is faced with a choice of a kingship of glory or a kingship of integrity... to be his own man, or to be God's servant. He chooses integrity and servanthood, and asks for wisdom as his gift. Because Solomon asks for wisdom, God tells him he will be granted power, riches and long life as well.
Making the right choice led to other right choices...
A little later on, Solomon has two women show up in his court asking him to settle a dispute. The two women, who happen to be prostitutes who share a house, offer a story to Solomon. Both had given birth to baby boys, but in the middle of the night one of the infants is smothered by his mother. One woman claims that her counterpart is the mother to blame, and that in the middle of the night she switched the dead baby for the live one. The other declares the accusation to be false. Solomon then has a soldier come and take the baby. He orders the baby to be cut in two and each mother be given a half. One of the women says, "Fine by me," and the other cries out to spare the child and give him to the other. Solomon give gives the child to that mother, and the moment becomes legendary. We are not even told whether the woman in question is the biological mother, only that she is the most fit.
Like I said, making the right choice leads to other good choices...
And in Solomon's case, making the wrong decisions eventually led him to make make bad choices---or to only have bad choices to choose from...
But in this part of his story---he did was right. How did he know to do that? How did he know to make those right choices?
As we read earlier from David's Charge---we see that Solomon was taught and told what was right. He had the benefit of the example of his father David of what it meant to make good decisions and also bad ones. But more than all of this, the knowledge to know right from wrong was instilled in him. It was a part of his true self---the person that God had always dreamed for him to be.
Let me ask you personal question. Why do you choose poorly? What is it that makes you choose the wrong thing, when you know it's the wrong thing?
And you do know better... Where did you learn what was right and wrong? You can't really remember a specific moment can you? That's because it's a whole series of moments, countless conversations, things that you buried in your memory when you were a kid. Unless there is something seriously broken in us---we all know the difference between right and wrong. It's instilled in us by family, culture, society and also by a God who created us in his image for a reason---so that we would have the capacity to choose well---even though we don't always do it.
So why do we choose poorly when we know better?
In Genesis chapter 3 we find the first moment when human beings know what is right, and they do what is wrong. When Eve is tempted by the serpent, he tells her that if she eats of the fruit that is forbidden to her she and Adam will become "like God." We might as well interpret that as "you will become like your own god," and we might as well put our own names in that story in place of Adam and Eve.
Because we make the wrong choices every single day even though we know better---and we do it because we don't want to give up control, which is really not very smart when you think about it.
But just because we make a wrong decision doesn't mean that we can't make a right decision to change our course.
Israel Houghton is one of my favorite Christian musical artists. He has been the worship pastor at Pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Texas for many years. He's won Grammy's, Dove awards, writes gospel and contemporary Christian music and has had an impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people around the world.
His mother was a young white girl of 17 from the small town of Waterloo, Iowa when she got pregnant in while living in California---out of wedlock. When she returned home she had to tell her parents that not only was she pregnant, but that the father was a young black man. Her town was very segregated, and her parents were horrified. They urged her to get an abortion, to chalk it up as a mistake. She had made a bad decision, they told her, now make a different one and go on with your life. Israel's mother chose to have her baby, and returned to California. The father left when she was eight months pregnant, and she nearly lost Israel to the state of California because she was so young and addicted to drugs. One day a woman came to her and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her, and told her that she had one the right thing. This message of hope and the others that followed brought Israel's mother to another choice---the choice to follow Jesus. And the rest is history...
Consider this one of those moments where you are being given a choice to make the right choice. Maybe you feel like you don't have any choices left---that all of your bad choices have left you boxed in. You aren't. And you know what it will take to truly see that. You need to make the same choice that Israel Houghton's mother made---to follow Christ.
The choice to choose wisely is a choice you know to choose... so choose it.