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Guest column: Priorities in the new year
Marcus Toole mug inverted
Marcus Toole

What does Solomon’s temple have to do with the new year? Answer: Each new year provides a fresh opportunity to examine priorities, and the depiction of events around the construction of Solomon’s temple contained in 1 Kings 5-9 reveals some unflattering things about King Solomon’s priorities that can help us evaluate our priorities from God’s perspective. 
The narrative about the construction of the temple stops and describes Solomon building his house (palace) before describing the completion of the temple and its dedication. As grand and lavish as Solomon’s temple was, 1 Kings reports that Solomon’s palace was many times larger and more lavish than the temple. In addition, 1 Kings subtly makes the point that the completion of the Lord’s house was delayed because priority was given to the construction of Solomon’s palace instead. The Jewish temple, King Solomon’s crowning achievement, in the end provided evidence to his divided heart for which he is judged by the end of the Solomon narrative in 1 Kings.  
I do not believe that God is calling anyone to build a temple to the Lord today quite the way Solomon was. My understanding of New Testament teaching is that God’s people are called to be a temple for the Lord rather than to build a literal temple building.  However, the issue of priorities and how the things we build reflect our heart attitudes toward the Lord remains the same for us as it was for Solomon. Solomon’s building program was much more about himself and his political goals than about the Lord and the Lord’s calling for Solomon’s life and kingdom. This becomes abundantly clear when one takes the whole of the Solomon narrative in 1 Kings with God’s evaluation of Solomon in the end.
What are our priorities in 2015? Are our priorities focused on self- and man-centered kingdom building, whether that kingdom be a business, a family or a public institution of some sort? What if we wanted to learn from Solomon and put the priority on building for the Lord rather than building for self? What would we build? 
I think Jesus gives us a hint about how God-centered priorities would look when he said, “Whatever ye do unto the least of these (people), so ye do it unto me.” After hearing Jesus, I think of Mr. Allen Webb, a volunteer extraordinaire with Habitat for Humanity. Mr. Webb first built a house for himself, but then he built 45 houses for people of modest income with Habitat for Humanity. That’s others-centered building, and I would venture to say that’s Jesus-centered building as well.
One does not have to literally build houses with Habitat to build for the Lord, but I do think 1 Kings would call us to demonstrate that our priority is focused on the Lord through the things we build, whether literally or figuratively. The key is this: Is your building “stranger-centered” or centered on you and yours? Where do your priorities lie? 
I must confess that for me, like Solomon, my priorities are divided at best. In the end, Solomon wasn’t rejected totally on account of his divided heart, even though his children inherited some bad fruit and a poor example, which they followed to their great harm. But toward Solomon, the Lord was gracious, and he is gracious toward us as well. But still, the Lord’s call to us is others-centered, and our building program should be others-centered as well.     
This is where Habitat comes in to help. We are on a mission to build homes, communities and hope for those of modest income. One of our goals is to provide people like you with opportunities to build for the Lord through building for the others, whether it’s through financial contributions, donations to the ReStore, volunteering with fundraising or volunteering with construction. No doubt many other organizations provide opportunities for others-centered building as well, and if the Lord calls you to focus your energy elsewhere, that’s wonderful; pursue his call. But maybe the Lord will have you join us in building homes, communities and hope.
Solomon eventually got around to building a house for the Lord after he built a much bigger palace for himself. The Lord honored that, but what might Solomon have built had his priorities been different? What are your priorities, and what will you build?
God Bless.

Marcus Toole is the resource development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County.