Depression, Suicide and Our Response

Are you living a life worth following? As a pastor in our community, I want to be known as someone who loves God with all of my heart, as someone who serves his family well and has never sacrificed them on the alter of ministry. And, I desire to be known – not for the things I am against, but rather for the things I am for: that all may come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord and be committed to a life of growing in Christ and in the knowledge of God’s Holy Word. 

However, I also know that there is a great problem amongst the believing world, and within the church. So then, in light of recent events (the suicide of a well known pastor this month), I want to share something with other Disciples of Christ: I am pastor who struggles with anxiety and anxiety based depression. I need to take medicine every day. Without it I struggle to process things correctly and this has an impact on many parts of my life.

As a pastor in my community, I deal with people that are battling addiction, in the midst of affairs, addressing anger, doubt, disbelief, and those who struggle with gossip, and grief – plus, many other things. The last thing that I would do is to tell them: “Just have more faith in God…” Yet, many call into question the faith of those pastors or believers who struggle with depression or anxiety. For some of us, we have chemical imbalances or we have deep life issues that, although we are committed to working on, require time and the right tools along the way to help us experience healing and to move forward, daily, by God’s grace.

I share this because there needs to be an awareness that this is a very real thing in ministry, in the church, and in our communities. This is something that a lot of us fight every day, and many ministry leaders battle each weekend when we step down from the pulpit and seek to live out Biblical truth.

So in light of recent events like that pastor’s struggle with depression and his suicide this month, and with October being called “Pastor Appreciation Month” – I ask you to be the people of God who make sure their pastor knows you are praying for them. And, be the people of God who will, with authenticity, help those struggling with issues of the heart and mental health issues as well. Don’t stay silent. Pray. Encourage. Invest in real relationships that speak louder than the gauntlet of depressing and doubt-filled thoughts. I spend a lot of time with other pastors in my community and I can say this of most of them: they are on their knees in prayer – praying for you and this community, daily investing in Kingdom minded work that often times takes years to bear fruit. At every turn along the way, there will still be elements of discouragement. There are constantly people walking away from the church, angry without cause, silently critical, yet your pastor still prays for these people with a heart that, often times, is broken and hurt and confused.

I say all of this from personal experience. Never think that a short but genuine word of encouragement, or a simple email or note is going to cause anyone to get a huge head. If anything, it might be exactly what we need at that moment, so let the Holy Spirit use you to encourage those who are broken and hurting, including your pastor. 

69743655_10157347863161698_3867204925733732352_oFor those struggling with anxiety, depression and other aspects of mental health – there is hope. His name is Jesus. Cling to Him. Run to His Holy Word and rest in His promises for your life, for all of our lives. Don’t give up. We are not weak. We are not weak in faith. We are like everyone else: sinners in need of grace, mercy and encouragement from God the Father and from God’s people. If you need help, reach out. Tell someone. As something Pastor Jarrid Wilson often said: “Hope Gets the Last Word!”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at tel:1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Here is some of the Scriptures I have used, and encourage you to use, to regain your focus on God, His TRUTH and the HOPE we have in knowing Him and His promises…

Zephaniah 3:17 – “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Psalm 107:14 – “He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains.”

Psalm 30:5 – “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

1 Peter 4:12-13 – Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.”

Psalm 37:23-24 –The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 – “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Psalm 42:5-6 – “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you…”

John 16:33 – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

(Adapted, originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” and their Faith & Insight Article, Sept. 21, 2019)

Good Over Evil

All the classic stories share the same tension between what is good, versus what is evil. We live in a world were this isn’t just a story in a book or in a good movie, but it is something that plays out every day. The difference between the stories we read in a book and watch on a screen and the real life stories of our lives, is that the stories in a book come to a concise end after a few chapters. When that story ends it brings about a sigh of relief, when against all odds, the good wins out. 

What we face doesn’t often end after a few chapters or after 120 minutes of screen time. In the story of one’s life, when good seems like it won’t win, one needs to remember to turn to God, and to trust in His truth from Romans 12:21: Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

If we try to fight evil with the weapons used against us like fear, anger, hurt, ridicule, or selfishness, we will never win. Our enemy knows that and is thrilled to see us take up his tools. These are not the weapons designed for our hands.

We must remember that each battle is a part of the bigger war. This is a war where the final battle has already been fought and won—on the cross and in the grave. What Satan intended for evil our God transformed into the ultimate good. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate example of good triumphing over evil. It is “the good news.” Greater is the Spirit who lives inside of you than the enemy who wages war against you.

A key tool to overcome evil with goos if found in James 4:7, which says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Surrender your will and ways to the Lord and overcome evil with the goodness of a restored relationship with your heavenly Father. Because of the power and authority of the Lord, when you put up a fight with the enemy you will win. He will flee from you. That’s God’s promise for you. You have victory over the enemy in Christ alone because “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Christ has set you free from bondage to the world. However, you are free to choose who you submit yourself to. Experiencing consistent victory requires you to submit yourself to God and not to the world. You have to wake up and choose to live every day for God. You have to choose to live your life in light of eternity. Make this choice and God will lead you to victory over sin and its destructive effects, and He will equip you to help others to do the same. When you keep your focus on the Lord, you will discover the incredible life He has in store for those “who love God” and “are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Jesus knew we were going to feel overwhelmed by the brokenness around us, which is why He reminded us that He has already overcome the world (John 16:33). But until He returns, we get to represent His kingdom and His ways here on earth, so reflect God’s goodness and His promises in your choices. As you do, He will faithfully show you the unique abilities for good that He’s given you to follow His ways to overcome.

Better Hurry Up…!

I love print cartoon images. I still look for them each weekend in our local paper. We have some of the greats like “Peanuts” by Schultz and Larson has done “The Far Side.” There are hundreds of classics that have survived the changes of life and impacted countless generations of readers – myself included.

Throughout their existence, print cartoons – even political humored one – always seem connect with a very real issue.

One of my favorites has always been, and will always be, “Calvin & Hobbes” by Will Watterson. His humor included politics, family life and satire in these two specific characters, following the humorous antics of Calvin, a precocious, mischievous, and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his stuffed tiger. At one point, it is said, that this comic strip was in over 2,400 newspapers weekly. I am one of the millions of people who own some of the books that have collections of this comic in them. Calvin was said to be named after pastor John Calvin and Hobbes was named after the 17th century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes was just a stuffed animal. But to Calvin, he was very real. Perhaps that ‘little guy’ inside of me still resonates with that view on life and all of the issues that were examined through this lens.

Many of the issues that Calvin and Hobbes faced, are issues we have faced as well. Whether that be in our past, or even in our current reality.

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Within each of us is a competing nature: adventure and risk vs. logic and reality. Some of us go through life so unbalanced that we find ourselves up a ladder and even with a friend/spectator cheering us on – completely disconnected from the truth. We may even have someone in the distance speaking objective truth to us…but we are razor focused on what we think or perceive to be the best decision possible. And, we hurry up and jump!

Scripture, in Romans 8, it starts off with a powerful truth: So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” And yet, far too many of us find ourselves up a ladder, ready to ignore all the realities around us, and and we go out and make choices that keep us from walking in the power of the life-giving Spirit of God.

Many seemed doomed to repeat past mistakes. Bad habits drive us and making a poor choice is often fueled by not only what is easiest in the moment, but also fear. Fear of failure. Fear of pleasing others. Fear of being found out. Verse 15 of Romans 8 says: “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.” The battle that can rage within us to climb the ladder and jump into danger before we actually stop and listen to what God the Father is saying for us to do, is very real.

So what can you do? Romans 7:21 and following says: I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

First, we must stop and listen. And in doing this, we need to know who we are listening to. At some point, Calvin is only tuned into Hobbes. And well Hobbes, his only wise statement is ‘hurry’ because the true voice of authority in life (a six year old boys parent) is saying ‘something’ and we can probably all guess what it was. STOP.

We have to stop listening to the wrong influences in our lives. All the self-help gurus in the world cannot compare to the answer we should all first seek: Jesus Christ our Lord. The heart of God has been perfectly revealed in His Holy Word. If the ladder we are climbing is leading us to something that contracts Jesus as the answer and away from His revealed promises within Scripture, then you must STOP. Ephesians 4:22-24 says: “To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In a message called “Put on the New Person” by Pastor John Piper, he teaches that “that THE KEY QUESTION for how to live the Christian life [is]: How do you think in such a way that God will be the creator of your thoughts? How do you feel in such a way that God will be the creator of your feelings? How do you act in such a way that God will be the creator of your actions? How do you put on a new person created by God?”

We can’t be a ‘hurry up’ people any longer. Rather, we need to be a people, so consumed with the goodness of God the Father, and so devoted to His Lordship in our lives, that we don’t move ahead of His sovereign working in us, and around us, and that we passionately wait on Him to reveal His ways by stoping, and asking the Holy Spirit of God what is truly controlling our motives in that moment.

You were made for this. To live this way. God’s way. Not in a ‘hurry up’ and do it myself kind of living. That is not walking in the power of life-giving Spirit of God. It might be in rhythm with man’s best. Or the world standards of success. But it is actually out of step with God. Ephesians 4, verse 10, says that “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us…”

I’d rather know God, know His voice and climb the ladder with God – the ladder He purposed for me to climb – any day – then to keep climbing up my own-made ladders and doing life my own way. My best is often less fulfilling. Less joy-filled. It lacks. God’s best for me has always been more than I could ever imagine and provides for me in ways I didn’t even know I needed, until I exactly needed it.

So stop climbing those ladders you’ve placed in your life. Stop listening to things that oppose God’s Holy standards for Christlike living and start passionately waiting on His voice and resting in His promises for your life. As you wait, God is developing your character and you are able to grow spiritually in ways that meet current needs but also prepare you for future realities.

Another tool you will need: others – but, the right others. Ecclesiastes 4, verses 9 through 12 say: Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. You need to have the right people around you, and perhaps, below you on the ladder, that will counsel you correctly. Not someone who is just as blind to the truth, to the issues, as you are sometimes. Not those who only take from you – emotionally and such – but rather, those who are invested in a real relationship with you and who you know are personally connected to and walking in faithful obedience to God the Father. People you see alive in Christ and not just those who will tell you what you want to hear.

Everyone of us, as Disciples of Christ, should seek to live a life that glorifies God, and to live a life worth following – as we follow Christ. And, each of us should have true friendships with others who have purposed to live in the same way.

Stop listening to the wrong noises in this life. Be connected personally to God and His Word. Let God, be God, in your life. Let the Holy Word of God define truth and goodness. And, be connected with others in a healthy way that fulfills your pursuit of loving God, glorifying Him and making much of Him in your life each day.

The Dance of Life

If I close my eyes, I can picture riding shot-gun in my grandfather’s single cab Chevy pickup truck and listening to him sing (off key and loudly) to his favorite country music station. You could always tell when grandpa really liked the song. He rolled the windows down, drove a little slower and sang even louder. 

I remember one specific time when a song by Garth Brooks came on the radio, called “The Dance.” I remember at the end of the chorus, where it says, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance,” that my grandpa shared something in that moment that was so simple, but something that would forever impact me.

Grandpa shared: “Nothing you will ever face in this life is worth missing out on – it is all meant to be, Nick, it all will teach you something you need to know.”

The windows rolled back up a moment later as we pulled up to the ice cream shop and got our favorite ice-cream…mint chip.

“Lord of the Dance” is a hymn written by songwriter, Sydney Carter in 1963. It follows the idea of a traditional English carol which tells the gospel story in the first person voice of Jesus of Nazareth, portraying Jesus’ life and mission as a dance. Jesus commanded those who love, who obey Him, to fulfill the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment. 1 John 2:6 says: “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

Jesus has made it clear for His people, that in the dance we call life, that anyone who claims to be intimate with God, ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived. The song, “Lord of the Dance,” has a profound refrain that is repeated throughout the song that says: “Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the dance, said He. And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be. And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said He.”

Now I cannot know the true intent with this songwriter when he wrote this song. Nor do I believe that Garth Brooks is a great spiritual influence. However, both of these songs have pointed me back to my daily pursuit of God. For very experience that our sovereign and holy Lord brings us to, is by His perfect design. We must respond in obedience to Him and make choices that bring Him glory. When we do, we can learn and grow as we walk – or dance – as Jesus did.

We cannot say “I know God,” and not abide in Him, and not pursue a growing relationship with Him. We will not dance through this life well, or in any way God the Father purposed, if we are not truly abiding in Him. So how do we do this? Through a consistent time in the Word of God, through being connected to other growing Christians, and by being faithful to a local church family where the Word of God is taught in a way that glorifies the Lord and stirs us towards a deeper walk with God. 

Everyone is out there dancing the best they can through this life. Jesus danced it perfectly and has called us to follow Him. We must be people so consumed with the goodness of God, and so devoted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ that we walk as Jesus walked, allowing us to live a life worth following as we make much of God. 

There are some really poor examples out there. You don’t have to add to that number. You can purpose to grow spiritually and in community and dance in such way that the people see your dance – your faith and walk in the Lord, that they praise your Heavenly Father. Dance like this, in this life, and see then how your obedience to the Great Commission, in the spirit of the Great Commandment, brings joy to your life and to the lives of those God has placed within your reach.

(Adapted – originally written for the Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – February 2019)

The Sadness of Silence

The third Monday in the month of January is considered by many as BLUE MONDAY: THE MOST DEPRESSING DAY OF THE YEAR. The good news is, if you are reading this, then you made it through this day. It hasn’t always been known as this, so perhaps it has come to be known as this because all the holiday festivities are over. Perhaps you started a new year with lots of goals and dreams and by now, reality has set in. Or, perhaps we are all ready for Spring and tired of the gloom and cold of winter at this point. Because depression is real and grips many, then noting a day like this is important, and addressing depression isn’t something to be silent about.  

Another significant day, or anniversary, worth noting happened this last week on January 22. Shawn Carney wrote: “46 years ago today, seven men who call themselves “supreme” silenced the voice of the American people, initiating the greatest human rights atrocity in U.S. history. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision dehumanized the unborn and led to 60 million children being killed by abortion since 1973. Despite 46 years of legalization, abortion is ending at the grassroots level. Not because of robed, ivory tower Supreme Court justices, but because families are living their pro-life convictions in communities across the country.”

This brings us to today. The issue of abortion can anger and shame and pain anyone bold enough to discuss this epidemic. I have been told, more than once, that because I am a man, that I have zero right to even talk about abortion – let alone encourage people to pursue God’s heart for the value of human life. However, that is exactly what feeds any sadness within my heart and mind this time of year: the sheer volume of silence from many regarding abortion.

Perhaps like me, they have been shamed about holding to Biblical truth regarding the sanctity of life. Perhaps for others, the issues of abortion is so raw and real in their lives personally that they look forward to a day when it is no longer present in their minds.

Despite the past silence of God’s Holy Bride and those who shepherd it, I am seeing a great change happening with the way others think about the value of human life. I see it regarding immigrants and refugees. I see it regarding racial oppression and the marginalized of society. And, I am seeing a change in many, as they seek to bring their lives under the authority of God’s Holy Word regarding abortion, too.

Yet, some still say that a little baby isn’t as valuable as an adult or someone who’s already born. The Bible says that each person has tremendous value. In fact, the Bible says that we are GOD’S MASTERPIECE. Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” A masterpiece is a prized possession, the best of the best, and the Bible says: YOU ARE GOD’S MASTERPIECE. So, although not everyone understands how valuable a life is, I believe that God is changing this among His church and I believe that as Disciples of Christ, we should be champions for His redemptive work within the pro abundant life movement as well. 

It can change when we find ourselves looking at all the differences in the world around us, and when we stop believing the lies of Satan and begin to embrace the truth that pre-born baby has value worth protecting – just like the value of the life of the immigrant and refugee, and to those experiencing racial inequality and injustice.

I urge you friends: investigate how science agrees with Scripture about the value of a pre-born baby.

The moment a baby is conceived, their features, their gender, and their hair and eye color are determined at the conception. Just three weeks after that – so just a little longer than the Christmas break you were on – in just three weeks, a baby in its mother’s tummy, their brain and spinal cord begin forming and their heart begins to beat in 22 days. Within 6-7 weeks, arms and legs and organs like the kidneys begin to form. By 7-1/2 weeks a baby in a mother’s tummy has distinct fingers and can even hiccup. By 8 weeks nearly all the organs in the body have formed, and just need to mature and fully grow. At this age, the baby is very active and can been seen during an ultrasound – one of the services we provide at Life Choices for free – they can be seen waving their arms and kicking. And just 10 weeks after a baby is conceived, the baby begins to form their fingerprints.

Take a moment and look at the palm of your hands. See those finger prints? Each one is different. Each one is special and the fingerprints you have right now started to form when you were a tiny baby in your mother’s belly. 

The Bible and science agree. You are a masterpiece. You are special and unique and you have great value. Embrace that truth. Also, embrace an attitude of love towards others and point to living alternatives. Many groups are standing for life and work hard every day to bring great grace and respect to those who are considering abortion or who have had an abortion. Connect those wresting with this choice to those type of living alternatives and support those places.  Stand for truth. Speak this truth in love. Depend on the Holy Spirit for conviction. Let your convictions be rooted in Scripture and live out this truth. Reflecting God’s heart and His truth is what we can do to bring change as we live out His message of life and redemption.

We cannot stay silent. We must, in great grace and truth, speak to the holiness and the sanctity of human life. Simply posting an image on social media is not enough. We must learn the Biblical foundation for the holiness of life and live by God’s truth. We must also understand how science teaches us, that from the moment of conception, we already have the very things that make us human and unique.

Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death.  Don’t excuse yourself by saying, ‘Look, we didn’t know.’ For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” Proverbs 24:11-12

(Adapted. Original article published in the Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – January 26, 2019)

Fulfillment Requires Obedience

True and lasting fulfillment requires obedience. True obedience to the Lord is fulfilling. God’s perfect love has provided the pathway to real obedience.

For many, however, the conviction to obey is saturated with a concept of negativity. Why do I say this? Well, far too often when one thinks about obedience, it normally brings about a feeling of completing a task, apart from the actual desire or longing to do it. Meaning, we associate obedience with obligation, rather than what it was intended for: fulfillment. When Jesus walked among us, He demonstrated fulfilling obedience. He carried out what many would see as a very different lifestyle of obedience. The life Jesus lived demonstrated what obedience to our Heavenly Father should look like in each of our lives today.

Obedience to the Lord is about making the choice, it is about purposing to live each day, (a lifestyle) to live a lifestyle of Biblical love and devotion to God, the same God who has fully and completely loved us with an enduring and extravagant, perfect love.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, Jesus said: “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (vss. 9 & 10) So why then is it so easy for us to miss the heart, the intent of God, when He calls us to pursue true fulfillment through obedience? Jesus demonstrates in John 15 that He purposed to live in such a way that it reflected, and it reciprocated the love He was shown by the Father. He lived His life in obedience to the Lord out of the depth and wealth of relationship He had – never out of simple duty or obligation. Jesus asks: will those who follow me now, do the same?

Another Biblical example we have regarding fulfilling obedience is in the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus states the greatest commandment in Luke 10:27“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The heart of God for us incredible, as He does not call us to a lifestyle of obligation, or even undesired sacrifice – rather, He calls us to a way of living each day that enables us to fully reflect and reciprocate the abundance of love that has be demonstrated in Christ and poured out for all the the world. The Lord does not merely set rules before us, rather He has made a relationship with Him the goal. He is after your heart – which comes in total and complete surrender to Him.

Our culture is often marked by its self-seeking, self-satisfying agenda – but, the Lord in His strength and power and wisdom, has set us free from this, enabling us to step outside of the burden of living for ourselves. We have been freed to live for others, by reflecting and reciprocating the perfect love of God when we live out a life of fulfilled obedience to the Lord. Our current way of living is often marked with the weight of pride, but God provides a way of freedom. The Father pours our His unceasing, selfless love which has the power to transform us into His beloved who can abide in the Lord and reflect His heart of truth, love and obedience.

If we purpose to truly obey the Lord, to abide in God’s commandments and to love wholeheartedly, we will experience true satisfaction that is unknown to those around us that are filled with the pursuits of our culture regarding selfishness and pride. We can and we will experience the abundant life promised to us by God if we abide in Him alone, if our identity rests in Him, in what He has revealed in His Holy Word, and when the Lord is our source of approval, and the source of a fulfilled life. 

May we abide in the commands of the Lord, choosing to live a lifestyle of wholehearted love for Him and of others. May we choose to live in obedience to Him, in response to His profound love for us. And as we do, may we discover the power, the purpose, and the radical freedom that comes from serving others with the very love that has been demonstrated through Jesus Christ for us, and them. May we experience fulfillment when we truly obey that which God has commanded His beloved to do.

Lions, Honey & Lust – Oh My!

If a story was written about you, what would you want it to say? Perhaps you would want it to share a good mixture of different experiences from your life. Or, perhaps you’d want just the highlights to be proudly reported for all to read.

When we look at Scripture, we see many stories shared about different people. From Moses to the Samaritan woman at the well, we see people from different generations of life and from a wide variety of places and circumstances. Sometimes, Scripture gives us but just a glimpse into ones life, and then other times, the Bible goes into great detail.

For example, take David: From a shepherd boy to the King of Israel. Declared by God, as a man after His own heart, when we read his story we see moments of triumphant and moments of tragedy. We see his faithfulness and obedience to the Lord and we learn first hand from his missteps and mistakes as well.

Another amazing story is about a man named Samson. As a young boy, I was captivated by the stories I heard of the strength of this guy – how he lost it all after seeking only what was best for himself, but, how in one final moment, God used Samson as an instrument of Israel’s deliverance where Samson would die in a final act of courage.

Samson’s miraculous birth, exploits, failings, and redemptive death is covered in the book of Judges from chapters 13 to 16. These verses in Scripture share about everything from his mullet-like long hair, to his rated R lifestyle and all of it produces some profound stories for us to learn from.

If one is honest, they probably can see themselves in many of these stories. For even when we believe that God is for us, we can still pursue what we believe to best for us instead.

One experience in the life of Samson has always truly captivated me. In Judges 14, Samson sought to marry a Philistine woman. His family didn’t understand what God was preparing this marriage for. Scripture shares though, that God was using this marriage to create an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time. Verses 5 and 6 share that As Samson and his parents were going down to Timnah, a young lion suddenly attacked Samson near the vineyards of Timnah. At that moment the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him, and he ripped the lion’s jaws apart with his bare hands. He did it as easily as if it were a young goat. But he didn’t tell his father or mother about it. “

What a crazy thing to have happen? Right?! Almost out of nowhere, a lion attacks and you rip it apart with your bare hands?! Crazy! This experience would have made Samson a candidate for the TV show “I Was Prey” on Animal Planet. Now, I don’t know about you, but a wild animal attack is not something I am actively preparing for and I am sure that this moment during his travel to pursue a woman he wanted to marry, that it was definitely an unwanted experience as well. But unlike that TV show on Animal Planet that tells the story of surviving an attack, Scripture clearly said that Samson did not tell his parents about what had happened. He didn’t share this experience…yet.

The Nazarite Vow that Samson took came about because before he was even born, his parents made a promise the Lord – dedicating Him to the Lord, and promising that throughout the life of their son, he would fulfill this vow.

This specific vow can be summed up into three basic guidelines: do not consume alcohol, do not touch anything that is deceased, and do not cut your hair. Samson wasn’t suppose to “cuss or chew or hang out with girls who do” but man oh man, did Samson end up breaking all the rules, especially theses core guidelines of the Nazarite Vow.

Samson actively used his God-produced strength to tear apart that attacking lion. After some time had passed from his first trip, Judges 14 goes on to tell us that he would return again to Timnah for the wedding to this Philistine woman, and along that path, he looked for the carcass of the lion he had killed. (Side note: WHY? If I had been attacked by animal, and survived, I doubt I’d want to revisit that spot.) Samson goes and finds the lion, and he sees that bees had made a nest in the animal and were making honey in the carcass of the lion. Verse 9 says: “He scooped some of the honey into his hands and ate it along the way. He also gave some to his father and mother, and they ate it. But he didn’t tell them he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.”

It appears that without much thought, Samson ignores a key guideline. For the life of me, I cannot imagine doing what he did – it seems pretty disgusting, to dig around in decaying animal and to eat honey found in that animal. However, Samson saw something he wanted and took what he wanted. Making his vow out to be nothing!

We are much like Samson because far too often when we see something we want, then that becomes all that we can think about. Take ice-cream: see it, want it, and then we justify how we will work off those unnecessary calories, perhaps telling ourselves why we deserve a little treat like this, and then…we take what we want, that glorious ice-cream.

In a teaching, Pastor Craig Groeschel said: “Lust makes us think, ‘I want it.’ Entitlement is that love that takes ‘I want it’ and adds ‘…and I deserve it.” And like Samson, we can live our lives with a simple thought pattern: “I see. I want. I need. Heck, I deserve this…” type of mentality.

What God wanted for Samson was clear: do not consume alcohol, do not touch anything that is deceased, and do not cut your hair. But in the heart of Samson was something that pulled him away from God’s best: lust.

What causes you to pursue or even choose your own way over what we say we believe to be God’s best for our lives? It is an all consuming lust that is developed by what we see, and then think we want or need and what we believe that we deserve.

With this story of Samson, and with many stories from his life, we learn what happens when we seek to justify our sin and desires to fit our agenda. But when we do this, we are making a choices to turn our hearts away from what God wants for our lives.

What God wants for your life is actually the very best thing!

The Lord has given you abilities and strengths to make choices within your life – some big, and others small – but to make choices that not conveniently ignore God’s direction and His best for you. But rather, He has given you these abilities and resources so that you can continual turn your heart toward what we know God wants: an abundant life.

Remember where your strength comes from. It comes from your Heavenly Father.

Recall your own less-than-perfect story, and in doing so, begin to identify why you are giving into your own weaknesses, and seek to understand why it is easier for you to sell out your own God–given strengths, purely so that you might gain some kind of acceptance from people who don’t have your best in mind.

Seek to guard your heart. Keep an account of your strengths, of the the unique gifts, talents and abilities God has poured out on you, that He seeks to develop within you. Write them out. Look at the value God has for you. He believes in you. He has equipped you. Don’t give up and remember that the next time you make a commitment to God, that you will not sell out these strengths to anyone or anything. And when you do mess up on your promise to Him, be quick to confess that and repent of it. You must not forget that the Lord loves you and that He longs to forgive and restore you, and that He will help you pursue once again, His best for you.

Stay away from those lions and the girls that cuss too! Seek to make choices each day, in each relationship and within each experience, that push you closer to God while following the guidelines within Scripture. Strive to make each day, a holy and joy filled pursuit of God’s best, growing in His wisdom and strength everyday.